Pesticides On Produce Is A Non-Issue

NPR has a story about the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce, that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out, of the items which tested with the highest levels of pesticides. The tests are done, by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), on food as it would be eaten — apples are washed first, bananas peeled, etc. Results are posted on their website as part of the Pesticide Data Program. The EWG then analyzes this data to produce their Dirty Dozen and also the Clean 15 — the cleanest produce items.


Photo from EWG


But, as with anything, presence of pesticides isn’t the issue — concentration is what’s important. A little alcohol is fine for you, but a lot will make you sick, and more will kill you. Everything we touch and eat is the same: there are safe and unsafe levels. Even too much water will cause water poisoning. So the question then becomes: are the levels of pesticides found on produce high enough to be unsafe? According to the USDA, no: only 1 out of 744 samples they tested was too high, and most tested far below the safety limits. The EWG’s response? The government safety limits are too high. To settle the dispute, food scientists from UC Davis performed a study last year and found that there’s no scientific basis for the Dirty Dozen:

In summary, findings conclusively demonstrate that consumer exposures to the ten most frequently detected pesticides on EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” commodity list are at negligible levels and that the EWG methodology is insufficient to allow any meaningful rankings among commodities. We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic” , but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.

Given the results of this study, and that even organic produce contains pesticides (though generally at lower levels), and that the EWG itself states that the “health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” it’s pretty clear that the Dirty Dozen is just a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

More about nutrition:

From NIH and EWG, via NPR

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