Health/Sci-TechLifestyleVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 19

Strawberries, spinach top annual ‘dirty dozen’ produce list

Government chemical testing of fresh produce showed that up to 95% of some of the most commonly purchased fruit and vegetables in the U.S. had detectable levels of pesticides, a new report claims.

The findings stem from scrutiny of non-organic produce testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA and were published Wednesday as part of an annual ranking called the “Dirty Dozen” by a Washington, DC-based health advocacy organization.

Topping this year’s Dirty Dozen list are strawberries, spinach, and the leafy greens of kale, collards, and mustard greens. Those top three are followed by grapes, peaches, and pears. The bottom half of the list includes nectarines, apples, peppers, cherries, blueberries, and green beans.

To determine the rankings, the advocacy group creates a composite score based on test results that indicate how often a pesticide is detected, the number of detected pesticides, and the amount of each one that is detected. “Before conducting tests, the USDA processes each piece of fruit or vegetable in the same way people tend to do at home. For example, those with inedible peels, like bananas, are peeled, and those with edible peels, like apples, are rinsed under cold water and drained before they are tested. So the test results are a good indication of consumers’ likely exposure,” the Environmental Working Group explained in its description of how the ranking lists were created.

“Emerging evidence suggests many widely used fungicides may disrupt human hormone systems,” said EWG Senior Toxicologist Alexis Temkin, PhD, in a statement. “But more studies are needed to better understand the risks they – and all pesticides – pose to humans, particularly children.”

A group called the Alliance for Food and Farming that represents both organic and conventional farmers pushed back on the release of the annual list, citing a 2011 paper in a peer-reviewed medical journal that was critical of EWG’s methodology for the Dirty Dozen rankings.

In a news release, the Alliance for Food and Farming also countered that the USDA “consistently finds that over 99% of foods sampled had residue levels well below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety standards with over 27% having no detectable residues at all.”

EWG encouraged people concerned about pesticides to choose produce grown organically, including considering options from the frozen section. The group also published a list it calls the “Clean Fifteen” and encouraged people to choose conventionally grown produce from that list since those items achieved the lowest scores in EWG’s analysis. Topping the Clean Fifteen list were avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, onions, and papaya.