Apples sold in the United States are more contaminated with pesticide residue than virtually any other produce, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said today.
Relying on calculations based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the public health advocacy group today released its "Dirty Dozen" ranking of fruits and vegetables based on pesticide residues.
This is the seventh annual report on pesticide residue from EWG and the first time that apples have topped the list. The group said that according to USDA data, pesticides were found on 98 percent of more than 700 apples tested. Further, 92 percent of apples contained two or more pesticide residues, according to the group. Last year, apples ranked third on the "Dirty Dozen" list.
Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst, said the goal of the list is to help parents avoid feeding their children contaminated produce.
"Kids are eating a lot of pesticides, and parents using the guide can steer away from these foods," Lunder said. "There is a need to be really careful and cautious when you're pregnant and when you're feeding children. During these times, pesticides can have major health effects."
In addition to the "Dirty Dozen," EWG ranked 53 fruits and vegetables based on pesticide contamination using an analysis of 51,000 tests conducted between 2000 and 2009 by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. Rounding out the top five were celery, strawberries, peaches and spinach.
Andrew Weil, a doctor and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, said pesticide residues can have a dangerous effect on human health.
"Pesticides, while designed specifically to kill certain organisms, are also associated with a host of very serious health problems in people, including neurological deficits, ADHD, endocrine system disruption and cancer," Weil said. "My advice to consumers is to whenever possible avoid exposure to pesticides, including pesticide residues on food."
EWG recommends buying organic produce to avoid pesticide residues.
In addition to its "Dirty Dozen" list, EWG also released a "Clean 15" list of the fruits and vegetables that are least contaminated by pesticide residues.
At the top of that list were onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados and asparagus. According to EWG, asparagus, sweet corn and onion had no detectable pesticide residues on 90 percent or more of USDA's samples.
Industry strongly condemned EWG's report, saying it intentionally scares people into avoiding fruits and vegetables that are safe to eat.
Marilyn Dolan, a representative of the nonprofit industry group Alliance for Food and Farming, said the USDA report on which EWG's report is based shows fruits and vegetables are safe.
"Regarding concerns about pesticide residues," Dolan said in a statement, "consumers should know that recently released data from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program (a system for monitoring pesticide residues in foods sold in the U.S.) demonstrates that not only are farmers of fruits and vegetables meeting requirements set by the U.S. [EPA] for pesticide residues, but their crops are shown to have either no residues at all or with residues 10 to 100 times below already stringent safety limits."
The Alliance for Food and Farming argues that just because a pesticide residue is detected does not mean the produce is unsafe. It has also set up a website -- www.SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com -- to counter EWG's "Dirty Dozen" list.
Notably, the alliance also fought the release of the USDA report, arguing that it would be used by groups such as EWG to discourage consumers from buying fruits and vegetables (Greenwire, May 16). Their efforts contributed to USDA's releasing the annual report five months later than it typically does (Greenwire, May 17).
Those efforts have set off a feud between the alliance and EWG, which says the trade group may have inappropriately lobbied federal and state regulators.
Click here for EWG's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" lists.
Click here for the Alliance for Food and Farming's pesticide residue calculator.