Feb 25, 2015
Industry reacts to ‘Dirty Dozen’ list

The Environmental Working Group released Feb. 25 its list of what it identifies as the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables, according to its new analysis of U.S. government data.

According to a news release, apples, peaches and nectarines topped EWG’s 2015 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce list of the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables.

According to EWG, apples turned up with the highest number of pesticides for the fifth year in a row, while peaches and nectarines moved up to the second and third spots.

Nearly two-thirds of produce samples tested by USDA and analyzed by EWG for the 2015 Shopper’s Guide contained pesticide residues – “a surprising finding in the face of soaring consumer demand for food without agricultural chemicals.”

EWG said USDA tests found a total 165 different pesticides on thousands of fruit and vegetables samples examined in 2013.

“The bottom line is people do not want to eat pesticides with their fruits and vegetables,” Ken Cook, EWG’s president and co-founder, said in a news release. “That’s why we will continue telling shoppers about agricultural chemicals that turn up on their produce, and we hope we will inform, and ultimately, empower them to eat cleaner.”

EWG stated the Shopper’s Guide, updated every year since 2004, is broken down into two lists, the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. The Dirty Dozen list includes the top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticide residues, while the Clean 15 list has the “15 cleanest, or least contaminated produce.”

“Apples tend to have the most pesticides because of the chemicals applied to the crop before and after harvest to preserve them longer,” the EWG’s analysts said.

Other produce items on the 2015 Dirty Dozen list are strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes.

“Since leafy greens and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health, EWG highlights these items in its Dirty Dozen Plus category,” the EWG news release stated.

“Avocados were the cleanest item on the list, with only one percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides,” EWG indicated. “Other items on the 2015 Clean Fifteen list include sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe and cauliflower.”

Industry groups respond

Reaction to the report from the specialty crop industry was swift, and critical of EWG’s contentions.

“EWG is using years-old data and faulty methodology that provides no context for its claims – and is, not to mention, a blatant scare tactic at a time when we should all clearly be eating more produce,” said Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the Vienna, Virginia-based U.S. Apple Association.

“Any report that tells people not to eat apples is just silly, and giving potentially harmful advice,” said Jim Bair, USApple president and CEO. “Consumers would be smart to simply follow the advice of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which all say – eat more fruit.”

USApple termed the EWG report “misleading” and pointed to USDA’s release of its annual Pesticide Data Program Report in December 2014 for produce and samples taken in 2013 – data its says EWG cites in its 2015 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce/Dirty Dozen list.

“EWG claims 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue,” a USApple release stated “What the report does not state is that no fresh apples were tested for the USDA’s 2014 PDP report, and EWG does not share what – if any – apple samples were actually tested to put apples atop its Dirty Dozen.”

“Consumers can be confident about U.S. apples,” according to the USApple statement. “Levels of pesticides detected the last time apples were tested for the USDA PDP report (2011) compare to EPA’s established tolerance. The pesticides detected collectively average 97.5 percent below the EPA tolerance.

USApple also contends EWG contradicts itself.

“EWG released last year a new food database rating both conventional and organic produce as ‘best’ foods for consumers, as part of its report called, ‘Food Scores: Rate Your Plate.’ Even last week, EWG posted a blog entry encouraging people to consume plant-based diets,” USApple stated.

“Using ‘lists’ to convey quick, out-of-context information is a scare tactic that causes consumers to avoid healthy fruits and vegetables,” USApple stated. “When asked if pesticide traces mean people should avoid fruits and vegetables, even EWG has had to admit the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.

“EWG should have disclosed that its 2015 list is not the result of 2015 data – no fresh apples have been tested for the USDA PDP report since 2011,” USApple stated.

USApple noted, “Apples are threatened by hundreds of different insects, diseases, fungi and other conditions that attack the tree or the fruit that it produces. To ensure Americans always have access to high-quality, pest-free apples, growers must take steps to protect their trees and fruit from injury or destruction by apple pests. When pesticides are used, growers are required by law to follow EPA’s strict instructions for use.”

The Newark, Delaware-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA) issued the following statement:

“PMA is committed to increasing produce consumption – whether conventional or organic products. There have been numerous studies that demonstrate consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential to better health for consumers. Every year the Environmental Working Group’s publishes its “Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen” list to call consumer’s attention to those commodities where pesticide residues have been detected, and to encourage consumers to purchase only organically grown produce.

“(EWG), of course, fails to recognize that the residue levels detected in USDA surveys are most often well within the legal tolerances determined after extensive scientific study by EPA. The facts and science show that consumers should be more confident than ever about produce safety and that residues found on both organic and conventional produce are at very minute levels and, according to the USDA, EPA and FDA, ‘do not pose a food safety concern.’ It is unfortunate that EWG continues to create unfounded concerns that might deter consumers from making informed decisions on consuming fresh fruits and vegetables.”

According to EWG’s news release, it’s Shopper’s Guide ranked 48 different fruits and vegetables by the total number of pesticides found on them.

“The guide is based on testing by USDA and FDA. The information EWG provides is valuable for consumers because pesticides have been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer and lower IQ in children.”

“We are saying, eat your fruits and vegetables,” Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst, said in a news release. “But know which ones have the highest amounts of pesticides so you can opt for the organic versions, if available and affordable, or grab a snack off the Clean Fifteen.”

Gary Pullano

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