WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Working Group’s latest “Dirty Dozen” list released June 13 took direct aim at apples this year, saying that the commodity jumped three spots to claim the top spot for pesticide residue hits.
But the produce industry was quick to defend the apple industry and pointed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data used to write the consumer group report as showing the residue levels are within safe levels.
EWG said that consumers should use its Shopper's Guide to Pesticide in Produce (ranked using 2000-09 pesticide data) to avoid the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, U.S. blueberries, lettuce and kale/collard greens.
Pesticides showed up on 98 percent of the more than 700 apple samples tested, the group said.
“Of the over 700 apple samples that were tested by the USDA, the vast majority fell well below EPA approved safety levels,” the U.S. Apple Association said in a statement. “The nation‘s apple industry urges strict enforcement of the law to prevent any possible over-tolerances residues.”
“Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it,” EWG President Ken Cook said in a June 13 press release that introduced the new guide. “Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic.”
The environmental group advised consumers to pick five servings from EWG’s Clean 15 list of fruits and vegetables to lower their pesticide loads. That list is comprised of onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, U.S. cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit and mushrooms.
The new guide uses a metric to calculate the pesticide risks from government tests of 49 fruits and vegetables between 2000 and 2009.
“The EWG’s Shopper’s Guide is not built on a complex assessment of pesticide risks but instead reflects the overall pesticide loads of common fruits and vegetables,” EWG said in its statement.
But produce groups attacked the report’s science and its potentially far-reaching effect of discouraging diets rich with fruits and vegetables.
“At a time when medical experts strongly urge Americans to realize the health benefits from eating more fruits and vegetables, it is irresponsible to mislead consumers with a sensational publicity stunt disguised as science,” said Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association. “If anything, the USDA data report, from which the Dirty Dozen is purportedly created, underscores the safety of fruits and vegetables. In its latest report, the USDA states the overall residues found on tested foods were ‘at levels below the tolerances established by EPA,’ which are measured in parts per million and typically established with a 100-fold or greater safety margin.”
Another group criticized EWG’s report.
“What is interesting is that EWG recently asked their membership to sign a petition calling for continued consumer access to ‘organic or low pesticide residue foods’ and the USDA and [Food & Drug Administration] sampling data clearly shows that this is what consumers are receiving,” said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food & Farming, a group that represents both organic and conventional farmers.