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In the wake of conventional strawberries topping the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) notorious "Dirty Dozen" in its 2016 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, fresh produce industry advocates are blowing raspberries at the latest findings, which they decry are not only overtly false, but also a flawed attempt to rekindle interest in a list that's wilted from the headlines in the last five years, when apples scored consecutive "dirtiest" distinctions.
Noting that nearly all strawberry samples – 98 percent – tested by federal officials in this year's report "had detectable pesticide residues," including 40 percent with detected residues of more than 10 pesticides and others with even more – some of which are relatively benign and others which are linked to various health issues – Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is too permissive of pesticide residue on produce, including strawberries. "[The federal standards] should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children.”
Produce industry boosters, such as the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), are neither amused nor surprised by EWG's new top soiled, er, seeded, candidate.
"We even predicted it since media coverage of the 'Dirty Dozen' list has fallen dramatically in the last five years and reached an all time low last year,” notes Marilyn Dolan, AFF executive director. But with more social influencers and copy-cat online news stories making the rounds across the digital cosmos, Dolan urges both professional journalists and bloggers alike "to read the actual United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report," whose findings show “residues do not pose a safety concern” and which she says is the same report EWG states as using to develop its controversial list.
The California Strawberry Commission is also none too happy with EWG's latest report.
Citing recent findings by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program who analyzed strawberries and found that pesticide “residues on strawberries are so low, if present at all, that a child could literally eat 1,508 servings of strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from residues," says the Watsonville, Calif.-based Strawberry Commission, which notes that "science clearly shows that organic and conventional strawberries are safe to eat and pesticide residues do not pose a safety concern."
In addition to strawberries, peaches, nectarines and apples, EWG further picked potatoes as a prime culprit on its latest list of fruits and vegetables with alleged higher concentrations of pesticides.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the EWG spectrum, avocados remained atop its "Clean Fifteen" lineup, with less than 1 percent of samples showing any detectable pesticides.
Readily acknowledging that "fruits and vegetables are important for your health," Lunder said EWG recommends "buying the organic versions [for items on the Dirty Dozen list] if you want to avoid pesticides on your food. You can feel confident that conventionally grown fruits and veggies on the Clean Fifteen list have very little pesticide contamination.”
However, AFF and other produce experts remained highly concerned "with misleading consumers, and the type of misinformation presented by EWG…[that] may be undermining efforts by health officials everywhere to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables,” says Dolan.
“The one consistent message that health experts agree upon and that is confirmed with decades of nutrition research is that a diet rich in fruits and veggies whether conventional or organic leads to better health and a longer life,” affirms Dolan. “This is the message we should all be promoting to consumers," and in turn advises those seeking more information on the safety of organic and conventionally grown fruits and veggies to visit the safefruitsandveggies website.
Kathy Means, VP of industry relations at the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, fully concurs. "It’s irresponsible to frighten consumers away from the very foods they should eat more of – fresh fruits and vegetables, which are safe for all consumers. The EWG does recommend consumers eat more fruits and vegetables – half the plate – but that message," Means continues, "combined with calling some of the most popular produce items 'dirty,' is confusing to consumers."
Those seeking to review EWG's latest Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, as well as the complete Dirty Dozen list that's been updated every year since 2004, can do so here.