The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual Shopper’s Guide today, including the latest iteration of its “Dirty Dozen” list – a ranking of produce most likely to be contaminated with pesticides. The guide ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Topping the list of most contaminated was apples. As Food Safety News reported last week, EWG is asking that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigate whether a pesticide commonly applied to conventionally grown apples but banned by the European Commission is safe for U.S. consumers. The report also includes a list of the “cleanest” produce, featuring avocados at the top, with only 1 percent of samples tested showing any detectable pesticides. “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide helps people find conventional fruits and vegetables with low concentrations of pesticide residues,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst and principal author of the report, adding, “If a particular item is likely to be high in pesticides, people can go for organic.” Other findings in the EWG report include:

  • Every sample of imported nectarines tested and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.
  • A single grape tested positive for 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries tested positive for 13 different pesticides apiece.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.
  • No single fruit sample from the “Clean Fifteen” list tested positive for more than four types of pesticides.

In March, Food Safety News covered the release of USDA’s Pesticide Data Program annual summary in which, as in previous years, the agency found that, “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.” In a recent opinion piece on this site, the Alliance for Food and Farming’s Marilyn Dolan took issue with EWG’s “Dirty Dozen,” stating that it’s “developed annually without regard to credible, accepted standards for determining risk and without peer review.”

  • EWG can compare organic and conventional produce all they want, but they’re ignoring the much larger issue. The only way to ensure organic foods are genuine (i.e. pesticide free) is by testing organic crops in the field. This will cut down on fraud which according to USDA statistics can be pegged somewhere around a whopping 43%.

    • Michael Bulger

      Mischa once again touts the 43% figure. He’s shown us that he gets that figure from one limited study conducted by USDA.

      What do I mean by limited? Well, let’s quote the study itself: “Since the samples do not represent all possible organic commodities and no additional data on the national distribution of pesticide residues in organic commodities is available, pesticide residues for all organic commodities cannot be described. The results from the 571 samples analyzed in this pilot study cannot be generalized to a larger group and cannot be compared to other studies.”

      So, according to the USDA, you cannot use this one study to peg the percentage of organic products that carry pesticide residue. Does that stop Mischa?

      It does not. In fact, Mischa takes another leap and declares all of the residue observed is indicative of fraud! Can Mischa demonstrate that this is fraud?

      I don’t think so. He continually relies on the singular USDA study to obtain the highest possible level of contamination that he can claim. However, that same study cites possible causes of pesticide residue. Included are indirect contamination from neighboring fields and environmental contamination. These would not be indicative of fraud, as Mischa claims.

      All this considered, it’s apparent that Mischa would prefer to continue his years-long smear campaign rather than sticking to the science. It’s either that or he is having a real hard time with his reading and comprehension.

      What’s more, looking at Mischa’s website, we can see that he continues to promote the notion that residue testing is not required by USDA. In fact, it is (

      I brought you up to speed on this a month ago, Mischa. What’s the matter? Too busy posting dozens of comments a week on your Disqus account to update your own website?

      • You refer to “the singular USDA study” as if the USDA is some backwater agency that no one cares about. The USDA is solely responsible for overseeing the multibillion dollar organic industry Michael.

        But if you insist on another study, all right, here’s one:
        “Consumers Union tested organic and conventionally grown produce…. We were surprised to find … that 25 percent of the organic foods we tested contained traces of pesticide not sanctioned for use by any private or state organic certification program. The residues we found on organically labeled foods may have resulted from inadvertent drift or carry-over in the soil, or from direct application.”
        (Source: Letter of April 10, 1998, from Jean Halloran, Director of the Consumer Policy Institute, to Eileen S. Stommes, Deputy Administrator of the USDA‘s NOP, Docket No. TMD-94-00-2, NOP, published in the Federal Register (62FR 65890) on Tuesday, December 16, 1997.)

        I trust you’ve heard of The Consumers Union. Haven’t you Michael?

        • Michael Bulger

          That doesn’t address the fact that you are unable support your figures. In fact, it further illustrates that your initial comment is not supported by the evidence.

          Do you still want to maintain that 43% of Organic products are fraudulent? Or that there is no residue testing requirement?
          Why not just admit that you were wrong?

          You can still advocate for residue testing without trumpeting mistruths.

          • Yes Michael, in spite of the USDA’s attempts to downplay their disturbing results, there can be no question that independent tests on 571 samples revealed that 43% of Organic products are potentially fraudulent.
            In my capacity as a USDA-contract organic inspector, I was advocating for across-the-board residue testing on organic crops long before these disturbing results came to light. I guess I was right.

          • Michael Bulger

            I can’t help you any further. I can do nothing more than point out how your statements are inaccurate, as I have already done.

            It’s your choice to carry on despite the evidence. I’ll be curious to see if you ever update your site.

      • farmber

        Thanks for highlighting that Mischa is up to his usual (i.e. fraudulent) mischief…

        It must pay well….

      • PeterStiff

        7CFR 205.671 accounts for unavoidable residual environmental contamination and allows for up to 5% of EPA’s tolerance. Above 5% produce cannot be sold as organic. Does your 43% include residue samples that were detected at or below concentrations of 5% or was the sampling based on detect/not detect?

        • Michael Bulger

          Mischa cites this USDA study:

          The 43% consists mostly of samples with residue concentrations below 5%. Mischa has been made aware of his errors in previous comment threads, but he chooses to ignore his mistakes. Over the years, Mischa has demonstrated that he would rather be alarming than accurate.

          • PeterStiff

            Shame on you Mischa. How dare you claim “FRAUD” when the products represented as organic meet the NOP regulations. I too was an organic inspector and worked for a certifier for 6 years, and dislike when folks like you try to undermine the spirit of the rule. Your negativity will do nothing but bring mistrust to the organic label.

          • lajaw

            “Your negativity will do nothing but bring mistrust to the organic label.”

            I believe that is his intent.

    • Corey49

      Folks like Mischa I encourage to seek out and eat all the pesticide-laden food you can.

      • I’m a supporter of organic farming Corey. I grew up on an organic grain farm and worked for 5 years as a USDA-contract organic inspector. My issue isn’t with organic food, it’s with the lack of authenticity in organic food.

    • Tree Hugger

      Is that conventional pesticide free or both conventional and organic pesticide free? Need to test for both

  • The denominator

    As organic foods become more prevelent, PDP collects more and more organic samples. I wonder if EWG has looked at this data? Every pesticide has a different toxicity, some more, some less, presence of a pesticide is not always an indicator of toxicity or risk. Organic does not mean pesticide free, it allows use or “organic pesticides”. While these are natural compounds does not mean they have no toxicity. EWG should do some research and level the playing field showing toxicity of conventional and the organic pesticides, which ones one which commodities show most risk-this would be a better indicator to consumers. Its nice to have programs like PDP to inform the public of what is on their produce!!!! Congress-please keep this program funded appropriately

    • Great points! But it’s not EWG that needs to conduct such an enquiry, nor is it Congress. It’s organic industry stakeholders who decided (and who still decide) what’s allowed and what’s not allowed in organic production. They’re the ones who used the natural/unnatural delineation between approved and unapproved substances.

  • Larry

    As a civilian reading the comments, I wonder how field testing would be useful at all. It wouldn’t necessarily test the product that the consumer encounters in the marketplace which may be subject to post-harvest chemicals to increase storage time or improve shelf life. Wouldn’t the best way to acquire test samples be off the grocer’s shelves at the point of purchase?

    • As an organic farm inspector who saw fraud with his own eyes, I have always advocated for FIELD testing because that’s where most of the substances prohibited for use on organic farms will be at their most detectable levels. I have no problem with testing products off the store shelf. But such end-product testing cannot replace field testing.
      We test Olympic athletes DURING the games, right? Not after.

  • flutterby

    Mischa, organic does not equal pesticide free. Organic Growers are not magically pest free. They just use specific pesticides approved by OMRI.

    • The tests done by the USDA on 571 samples of certified-organic food revealed that 43% of samples contained PROHIBITED pesticide residue, a clear indication of fraud.
      As Bernie Madoff can attest, that’s what happens when you rely on record-keeping and record-checking as your sole enforcement tool.

      • PeterStiff

        §205.671 Exclusion from organic sale.
        When residue testing detects prohibited substances at levels that are greater than 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance for the specific residue detected or unavoidable residual environmental contamination, the agricultural product must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced. The Administrator, the applicable State organic program’s governing State official, or the certifying agent may conduct an investigation of the certified operation to determine the cause of the prohibited substance.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Were the pesticides found on the skin of the grapes and other produce, or throughout? With my budget, I can’t afford organic, so I wash all produce in the hope of washing any pesticides off.

    I wish Congress would stop favoring conventional farming methods. They are ruining our health and the health of our planet.

    • Michael Wojahn

      What the EWG does not tell you is that all of these chemical findings are at levels so low that they have no toxic effect on you. You daily ingest more of the natural toxins in caffeine and chocolate than you would in months of eating conventional produce. Congress and the USDA support conventional farming because there is no scientific reason not to.

      • Flower lover

        Show us the data or reports to substantiate you claims. They are all low levels but mulitple pesticides- we don’t know the interaction (synergistic or antagonistic effects) between pesticides (just like drug interactions). Look at how EPA does risk assessments-1 chemical at a time.

    • Kitsy Hahn

      I rarely find organic grapes in my supermarkets, alas. So I buy the regular ones. And I don’t know where I got the idea to soak them in a bowl of cold water with a little ACV, but that’s what I’ve been doing. Am probably the only who does this, but oh well.

      • Lita Arnold

        Kitsy, what does ACV mean?

        • Kitsy Hahn

          Apple cider vinegar. 🙂

        • Kitsy Hahn

          Apple cider vinegar. 🙂

  • Bill Pilacinski

    Why can’t GM and organic co-exist? Bt (which organics already use as a bacterial spray) and virus resistance using anti-sense could actually reduce the amount of organic-approved pesticides and also produce healthier, organic crops (even organic-approved pesticides likely have secondary effects on the plant). World-wide organic opposition to GM, in any form, is preventing important GM foods from preventing blindness in children (Golden Rice) reducing exposure to high levels of pesticides (Bt brindjal/eggplant). Reducing the levels of pesticides to even lower levels than determined to be safe may bring comfort to some, and this has value. But very low levels of pesticides are of little concern to those in the world who face blindness or starvation as an alternative.

  • Mauel Thomas

    You keep repeating the deceptive 43% idea and then we are suppose to believe your negative musings concerning the state of the industry. If you are truly interested in reforming organic testing and issues of authenticity why don’t you stick to the truth rather than resorting to this distortion.