A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its annual Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report, which once again confirms that “residues do not pose a food safety concern.” Sadly, with the exception of Food Safety News, which covered the report in a March 10 story by Lydia Zuraw, very few in the media covered the release of this important report. We thank Food Safety News for reporting on the PDP’s findings and also for providing readers with comments from our organization – the Alliance for Food and Farming – which has been working in recent years to help correct misinformation about pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. The Alliance has created a website to provide credible, science-based information to reduce the fears some consumers have about their favorite conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and feeding them to their children. To be fair and balanced, Food Safety News also provided comments in their coverage of the USDA’s PDP report from one of the groups most responsible for spreading fear and misunderstanding about the safety of fruits and vegetables. Very shortly, this organization – the Environmental Working Group – will take the current PDP Report, combine it with years-old data, and manipulate the findings to create what they call their “Dirty Dozen” list. This list is developed annually without regard to credible, accepted standards for determining risk and without peer review. Nevertheless, when it’s released, certain media outlets will republish the EWG “list” and consumers everywhere will be told which fruits and veggies they should avoid purchasing – unless they are organic. The Alliance for Food and Farming takes exception to the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list for a number of reasons. The most important is that we – and many, many nutritionists and health experts from around the world – believe this list discourages consumption of fruits and vegetables and raises doubt among mothers that what they are feeding their children is safe. This is unfortunate, given the emphasis of government agencies and health experts who understand these products are very safe and are urging people to eat more of them to reduce disease and obesity. As additional proof of the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic, two new studies were released this week. One shows that eating more servings of fruits and veggies leads to a longer life. The other found no differences in cancer rates among organic and conventional consumers. A paper published in 2012 also found that if half the consumers in the U.S. consumed just one more serving of a fruit or vegetable each day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year – and this study was conducted assuming all servings were of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Even the EWG states that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat and that people should eat more of them. This leaves us wondering why EWG does not provide consumers with this very important information in conjunction with their annual list. In fact, it has us wondering why they publish the list at all. The fact is, the U.S. system governing approval and use of organic and conventional pesticides is regarded as the most health-protective for any class of chemicals in the world. Despite this, the EWG will say – as it did in the Food Safety News article – that the U.S. regulatory system is not safe enough. The EWG states that the strict tolerances for pesticide residue levels set by EPA are too high. In the Food Safety News article, EWG compared the current tolerances to a 500-mph speed limit, saying “it is too easy to comply and does not guarantee safety.” However, if you read the regulations involved in establishing tolerances for pesticide residues, the analogy is much more like setting a cautionary speed limit of, say, 55 miles per hour, then adding an additional tenfold safety factor so the legal speed limit is reduced to just 5.5 mph.  When you take into account the findings of USDA’s PDP report, the proper analogy would illustrate that produce farmers rarely come close to that 5.5 mph level, and, in fact, most aren’t moving at all. For a more direct example using real residues found by government sampling programs, take a look at the Pesticide Residue Calculator on our website. Here you will learn that you or your children could eat hundreds, or even thousands, of servings of a fruit or vegetable each day without any health effects from pesticide residues. The residues are just so small that they do not pose a risk, as USDA and FDA sampling has repeatedly shown. Despite this, EWG claims U.S. laws don’t do enough to protect children. This is interesting, especially since EWG applauded passage of new laws dating back to 1996 to improve the way pesticides are regulated on food, and EWG President Ken Cook takes credit for “his work at EWG culminating in the landmark 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that for the first time required EPA to consider the dietary risks of pesticides in food on children’s health.” The EWG also now claims the “chemical ag industry” has effectively watered down the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), yet an article written for the Huffington Post just two years ago by EWG’s Alex Formuzis outlines in great detail how “the defenders of the FQPA have rallied to its defense” and are successfully keeping the law intact. EWG used to be one of those defenders, but apparently no longer. Ironically, while EWG is busy bashing government systems, they repeatedly and continually boast about using data from government sampling programs, like USDA’s PDP, to develop their so-called list. They also repeatedly recommend that consumers “eat organic whenever possible.” However, these products are regulated by the very same U.S. system the EWG claims is inadequate. This same system also sets tolerances for the synthetic pesticides approved for use in the production of organic foods, which AFF believes are stringent and health-protective. So, for those interested in using, covering or promoting the “Dirty Dozen” list, the Alliance for Food and Farming asks that you first read the actual USDA PDP report. Then read this peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology paper which analyzed EWG’s list methodology and ask yourself – or better yet – ask EWG:

  • When EWG publishes its list, why not link to USDA’s PDP report for reference? This is a common and necessary practice when repeatedly referencing a study or report and is important for transparency.
  • Why would EWG criticize regulatory systems in place governing the use of conventional pesticides and state they are inadequate when many of those same systems are in place to ensure the safe use of pesticides in organic farming as well?
  • Why does EWG use years-old data to compile their list? Some of the residue samples they include are almost a decade old.
  • When talking about its “Dirty Dozen” list, why does EWG avoid providing consumers with information on the health benefits of eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables so people can make the choice for themselves about which foods to eat? Instead, EWG opts for language that is meant to frighten consumers about eating these healthy products and feeding them to their children.
  • Why doesn’t EWG submit their “Dirty Dozen” list and report for peer review? Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is a normal progression for reports that make scientific claims or assumption.

We’d be really interested in hearing the EWG’s answers to these questions.