Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen: Pesticides in our Food
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. EWG publishes its annual rating of conventional foods with the most and least pesticide residues to fill the void left by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has largely failed to tell Americans they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.
Because the EPA has not complied in full with the Congressional mandate, for more than a decade EWG has stepped in to publish its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. EWG aims to help people eat healthy and reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce.
“EWG’s Shopper’s Guide helps people find conventional fruits and vegetables with low concentrations of pesticide residues,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst and principle author of the report. “If a particular item is likely to be high in pesticides, people can go for organic.”
The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 required EPA to assess pesticides in light of their particular dangers to children and to ensure that pesticides posed a “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children or any other high-risk group. One provision of the act required that EPA inform people about possible hazards to their health brought about by consuming pesticides with their food. The agency provides some information on its website, but it does not list foods likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues nor those that pose the greatest dangers to human health. Most importantly, it does not offer the “right to know” information Congress required on behalf of consumers in 1996: how to avoid pesticide exposures while still eating a healthy diet.
Apples topped this year’s annual Dirty Dozen list of most pesticide-contaminated produce for the fourth year.
Other fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen are strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and imported snap peas. Leafy greens – kale and collard greens – and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are particularly toxic to human health. EWG details this problem in a section called Dirty Dozen-Plus.
EWG’s Clean Fifteen consists of conventional produce with the least amount of pesticide residues. Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides. Other items on the list include corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
The guide ranks 48 popular fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration. In the latest report, 65 percent of the samples analyzed tested positive for pesticide residues. Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and abnormal brain and nervous system development, among other health problems. To rank produce, EWG analysts use six metrics including, the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides.
“For decades, various toxic pesticides were claimed to be ‘safe’ — until they weren’t, and either banned or phased out because they posed risks to people,” said Lunder. “While regulators and scientists debate these and other controversies about pesticide safety, EWG will continue drawing attention to the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads.”
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