EWG stirs controversy with consumer guide on "dirty" fruits and vegetables

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012- Environmental Working Group released its “Dirty Dozen” list of produce with popular fruits and vegetables and their total pesticide loads on Tuesday, but specialty crop growers are pushing back over the negative impact the guide has on "healthy" foods.

According to EWG's research, as late as 2010, 68 percent of food samples had detectable pesticide residues.

“The explosive growth in market share for organic produce in recent years testifies to a simple fact that pesticide companies and the farmers who use their products just can't seem to grasp: people don't like to eat food contaminated by pesticides,” said EWG president Ken Cook.

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EWG researchers said they analyzed annual pesticide residue tests conducted by the USDA and federal Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2010.

According to the Alliance for Food and Farming, the EWG "Dirty Dozen" list is negatively impacting the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The alliance said recent consumer survey results and an analysis by a panel of scientists and nutrition experts show EWG's list and the group's accompanying statements are also undermining health initiatives like the First Lady's 'Let's Move' campaign.

"What makes this worse is that there is a large body of scientific work that clearly shows this group's list is not scientifically verifiable or valid," says Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming.

According to the alliance's research findings, almost 10 percent of low-income consumers stated that they would reduce consumption of fruits and vegetables after hearing "Dirty Dozen" list messaging taken from EWG statements. Another nine percent of low-income consumers stated they didn't know what they should do.

"Despite continuous statements and repeated government campaign initiatives communicating about the need to eat more fruits and vegetables, EWG messaging results in almost 20 percent of the low income population considering discounting those nutrition-based initiatives and advice," Dolan says.

EWG expanded its “Dirty Dozen” this year to highlight green beans and leafy greens, that did not meet the list's traditional criteria, “but were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides.”

“These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade,” claimed the EWG. “But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops. For this reason, EWG lists these on the new Dirty Dozen Plus™ as foods to avoid or to buy organic.”

This is the eighth year EWG published its “Dirty Dozen” list of foods along with its “Clean Fifteen”  list of the foods the group says is least likely to be pesticide-tainted.

In this year's “Dirty Dozen,” the EWG published the following: 

Some 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides;

Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues;

Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples;

Every single nectarine USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues;

As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals.

In this year's “Clean Fifteen” EWG states that “produce least likely to test positive for pesticides were asparagus, avocado, cabbage, grapefruit, watermelon, eggplants, pineapples, mushrooms, onions, frozen peas and sweet potatoes.”

“More than 90 percent of cabbage, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant and sweet potato samples had one or fewer pesticides detected,” stated the organization. “Of the Clean Fifteen vegetables, no single sample had more than 5 different chemicals, and no single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen had more than 5 types of pesticides detected.”

The Alliance for Food and Farming called on EWG to cease publishing this list along with their statements Tuesday. The group also recommended that consumers follow the advice of the FDA, “which clearly states that you can reduce and often eliminate any residues that may be present by washing," Dolan said.

"Decades of nutrition science, numerous toxicology studies, plus the stringent government regulatory systems all support the statements by the Alliance for Food and Farming about the safety of conventional and organically grown fruits and vegetables and the need to consume more of both," Dolan said. "And, with this new consumer research, which is supported by past surveys, showing how EWG's fear-based messaging is negatively impacting consumption, why publish this list at all?"

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