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Industry again condemns EWG’s ‘dirty dozen' list

The Environmental Working Group published its annual list of fruits and vegetables it recommends consumers avoid due to alleged high levels of pesticide residues, which brought quick condemnation by the produce industry.

Theresa Thorne, executive director of the Alliance for Fruit & Farming, a Watsonville, CA-based non-profit organization whose mission is to provide credible information about the safety of fruits and vegetables, said the list lacks science-based evidence and discourages consumption of produce by consumers.

“In light of new science and information about how safety fears are impacting low-income consumers, it is concerning that EWG still releases a 'dirty dozen' list in 2017,” Thorne said in a statement. “EWG’s list has been discredited by scientists, it is not based upon risk and has now been shown to potentially discourage consumption of healthy and safe organic and conventional fruits and vegetables. If EWG truly cares about public health, it will stop referring to popular produce items that kids love as ‘dirty’ and move toward positive, science-based information that reassures consumers and promotes consumption.”

This year’s list is topped by strawberries followed by spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet Bell peppers and potatoes. According to EWG, a single sample of strawberries revealed 20 different pesticides. Spinach, which topped the list in 2016, had, on average, twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop, according to EWG.

“In addition to this recent research, the other important reason that we remain frustrated that EWG continues to use this decades-old tactic is that the Centers for Disease Control reports that only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and veggies each day,” Thorne added. “This CDC statistic is especially concerning since decades of nutritional research shows that increasing consumption of conventional and organic produce can improve health and prevent diseases, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”

The U.S. Apple Association was also quick to speak out against this year’s Dirty Dozen List. 

“Any report that tells people to avoid eating apples is giving harmful advice,” Jim Bair, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Apple Association, said in a statement. “Instead, we should be more concerned with increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. And USApple is not alone in this. The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, all say eat more fruit.”

AFF recommends that consumers who want more information on the safety of all fruits and vegetables should visit the safefruitsandveggies website, which was developed by experts in food safety, toxicology, nutrition, risk analysis and farming. 

The AFF launched the safefruitsandveggies.com website in 2010 to provide science-based information about the safety of organic and conventional produce so that facts, not fears, can guide consumers’ shopping choices.

For consumers who may still be concerned about pesticide residues, AFF advises they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables. According to the FDA, consumers can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

In conjunction with its so-called Dirty Dozen List, EWG publishes a “clean fifteen” list, ranking the fruits and vegetables that it says are the least likely to contain pesticide residues. The 2017 Clean Fifteen are sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangos, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

EWG said relatively few pesticides were detected on these foods, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticide residues on them.

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