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2011 Guide to Pesticides in Produce


Timed Out
Timed Out
Oct 3, 2007
Reaction score
The EWG gets a lot of flack around here for some reason but I find this list to be an invaluable resource so I thought I'd post the new version that just came out: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/ http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/ The Dirty Dozen: \t \tBuy these organic \t \t \t 1 \t
Apples 2 \t
Celery 3 \t
Strawberries 4 \t
Peaches 5 \t
Spinach 6 \t
Nectarines - imported 7 \t
Grapes - imported 8 \t
Sweet bell peppers 9 \t
Potatoes 10 \t
Blueberries - domestic 11 \t
Lettuce 12 \t
Kale/collard greens The Clean 15: \tClean 15 \tLowest in Pesticide \t \t \t 1 \t
Onions 2 \t
Sweet Corn 3 \t
Pineapples 4 \t
Avocado 5 \t
Asparagus 6 \t
Sweet peas 7 \t
Mangoes 8 \t
Eggplant 9 \t
Cantaloupe - domestic 10 \t
Kiwi 11 \t
Cabbage 12 \t
Watermelon 13 \t
Sweet potatoes 14 \t
Grapefruit 15 \t
Should we eat more fruits and vegetables? Yes! According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, Americans have been eating roughly the same quantities of fruits and vegetables for some years (ERS 2010). For instance, in 1997, every American ate an average of 100.42 pounds of fresh fruit. In 2007, the number was 100.21 pounds. This flat trend worries nutritionists, who recommend that adults and children consume at least two servings of fruits and three servings of vegetables daily (CDC 2009). The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this advice is routinely ignored: less than a third of adults meet the current guidelines. Even more troubling, only one in three high school students ate enough fruit, and less than one in five ate the recommended number of vegetables (CDC 2009). The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables. But with EWG's Shopper's Guide, consumers don't have to choose between pesticides and healthy diets. ^ back to top How much pesticide is on conventionally raised produce? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's produce tests have found widespread pesticide contamination on popular fruits and vegetables. At least one pesticide was found on 63 percent of the samples analyzed for the Shopper's Guide. Ten percent of those samples had five or more different pesticide residues. ^ back to top Do all these pesticides mean I shouldn't eat fruits and vegetables? No, eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG's Shopper's Guide to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally grown produce is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. ^ back to top Why should I be concerned about pesticides? Pesticides are toxic by design. They are created expressly to kill living organisms -- insects, plants, and fungi that are considered "pests." Many pesticides pose health dangers to people. These risks have been established by independent research scientists and physicians across the world. As acknowledged by U.S. and international government agencies, different pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems, including:
  • brain and nervous system toxicity
  • cancer
  • hormone disruption
  • skin, eye and lung irritation
^ back to top Should I stop eating celery or blueberries or other produce items on your Dirty Dozen list? No, that has never been the Shopper's Guide message. We would certainly recommend produce from our Dirty Dozen list in lieu of other, less-healthy foods or snacks, like fat-, sugar- or additive-laden processed products. But with the Shopper's Guide you can have all the benefits of eating more produce while substantially reducing dietary exposure to pesticides. ^ back to top Last year, major produce growers claimed that 98 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables tested have no detectable residues. True? False. In a press release the United Fresh Produce, a trade association of conventional produce growers, packers, wholesalers and retailers and agricultural chemical makers, cited USDA testing data as evidence of produce safety, claiming that "98% of fresh fruits and vegetables tested had no detectable residues." (Blythe 2010). We wish its claim were true. But in fact, the data showed detectable residues on 63 percent of produce samples. USDA tests each fruit and vegetable sample for dozens and sometimes hundreds of chemicals. But federal regulators do not permit all pesticides to be used on all crops. For example, the list of pesticides approved for use on apples is different from those approved for, say, onions. When USDA tests every sample for a vast array of chemicals, it's not surprising that 98 percent of tests for individual chemicals come back negative, as "non-detects." Still, a number of pesticides are approved for each crop, and they will be found. That's why 63 percent of the produce samples analyzed for our guide were found by USDA tests to be tainted with one or more pesticides. ^ back to top Another trade group claims that 99 percent of food samples comply with pesticide residue restrictions. True? Misleading. The Alliance for Food and Farming claims that "99% of food samples analyzed did not contain pesticide residues above safety levels by the U. S. EPA" (Karst 2011). Unfortunately, this is misleading. It's true that 99 percent of samples meet legal limits, but legal isn't always safe. EPA's "safety" levels, called "tolerances," help EPA know that farmers are applying the pesticide properly - not too late in the season or in amounts above what is allowed. If tolerance levels were set to protect all children eating produce, as we believe they should be, then many fruits and vegetables would fail. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act required EPA to reevaluate its "safety" levels by 2006 to ensure that they also protected consumers from excessive pesticides. EPA barred some pesticides and restricted others. Yet the resulting EPA rules still don't protect people's health. For example, take apples. We estimate that EPA's "safety" levels for 11 pesticides permitted on apples are too high. Theoretically, a 4-year-old boy who ate one large apple with the maximum permitted amount of just one of those 11 pesticides would exceed the daily safe intake of that pesticide. Kids who eat more than one apple a day and more fruits and vegetables will consume even greater amounts of pesticides. Those who live near farm fields or in homes where pesticides are used will pick up even more toxic chemicals. All this suggests that EPA should restrict pesticide use more aggressively to make sure that pesticides pose no risk to children's health. EWG analyses show that since 2000 USDA has detected 210 different pesticides in fresh fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S., including 18 pesticides that each pollute at least 20 types of crops, including popular kid picks like apples, grapes, strawberries and sweet corn. The bottom line: if you eat in America, unless you're on an all-organics diet, you eat pesticides. ^ back to top Shouldn't I try to buy everything organic? EWG recommends buying organic whenever possible. Not only is it smart to reduce your exposure to pesticides, but buying organic sends a message that you support environmentally friendly farming practices that minimize soil erosion, safeguard workers and protect water quality and wildlife. However, we know that organics are not accessible or affordable for everyone, so we created the Shopper's Guide to help consumers make the healthiest choices given their circumstances. EWG always recommends eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, over processed foods and other less healthy alternatives. ^ back to top What if I wash and peel my fruits and vegetables? The data used to create the Shopper's Guide are from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means washed and, when applicable, peeled. For example, bananas are peeled before testing, and blueberries and peaches are washed. Because all produce has been thoroughly cleaned before analysis, washing a fruit or vegetable would not change its rank in the EWG's Shopper's Guide. Remember, if you don't wash conventional produce, the risk of ingesting pesticides is even greater than reflected by USDA test data. EWG has not evaluated various produce washes for efficacy or potentially toxicity. However, since some plants absorbed pesticides systemically, a produce wash would have limited effect. The safest choice is to use the Shopper's Guide to avoid conventional versions of those fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues. ^ back to top How does EWG make the Shopper's Guide? The Shopper's Guide is based on laboratory tests done by the USDA Pesticide Testing Program. The program tests several kinds of foods for types and amount of pesticide residue. ^ back to top How do you determine a fruit or vegetable's ranking? We rank fruits and vegetables by their likelihood of being consistently contaminated with the greatest number of pesticides at the highest levels. We combine six different measures of contamination to come up with composite score for each type of produce:
  • Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
  • Percent of samples with two or more pesticides
  • Average number of pesticides found on a sample
  • Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found
  • Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Number of pesticides found on the commodity in total
For more information, visit our Methodology page.
 To make the Dirty Dozen list as useful as possible by including fruits and vegetables consumers are more likely to purchase, we combined the similar scores of kale and collard greens into single item called "greens". Corn on the cob and frozen corn are listed as "corn". ^ back to top Is there a difference between domestic and imported produce? The Shopper's Guide is based on samples of produce available to the U.S. consumer and includes both domestic and imported produce. We don't compare domestic and imported versions of all fruits and vegetables. However, if we observed a wide difference in the score of a food's imported and domestic versions, we noted this in the ranking. ^ back to top What does "organic" mean? "Organic" is a designation used by the USDA National Organic Program to certify food that is produced without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers, genetic engineering, radiation or sewage sludge. ^ back to top Do we know enough about the effects of pesticide on people? No. Americans are likely polluted with far more pesticides than current studies report. Agribusiness and pesticide companies are not required to determine whether their chemicals are present in people, not even compounds that widely contaminate the food supply. The CDC national biomonitoring program has likely only scratched the surface in its efforts to determine the human body burden of pesticide. ^ back to top Do pesticides pose special risks to growing children? Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms. The implications of wide-scale pesticide pollution of Americans' bodies have not been explored. But recent studies of neurotoxic organophosphate compounds used on some fruits and vegetables have found that children with high exposures face greater risks for impaired intelligence and neurological problems. Pesticide manufacturers and produce trade groups claim that no studies link pesticide residues in the diet to health risks. Fact is, the government has not done studies that would answer the many questions about pesticides' impact on health. Neither has the industry. But lack of data about residue safety is not proof that pesticides are safe. There is an extensive body of evidence demonstrating that pesticides harm workers, damage the environment and are toxic to laboratory animals. EPA is responsible for setting standards for pesticides in food that allow a sufficient margin of safety between human exposures and chemicals known to be harmful. But because of the complexity of people's diets, the variation in pesticide residues on foods and other lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors contributing to disease, it is difficult to pinpoint the risks of pesticides in the diet. ^ back to top What do human studies tell us about risks to children? The most troubling evidence of pesticide toxicity to children comes from long-term studies tracking the effects of insecticides known as organophosphates. Organophosphate pesticides have been shown to damage nervous system function by blocking acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that stops nerve cells from firing. When nerve cells fire unceasingly, acute poisoning or long-term nerve damage can result. Several recent studies show that nervous system depression can have profound affects on children's brain development. Three epidemiological studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives in April 2011 show a clear link between a mother's exposure to organophosphate insecticides during pregnancy and deficits to children's learning and memory that persist through the ages of 6 to 9.
  • Columbia University researchers linked deficits in IQ and working memory among seven-year-olds born in New York City to prenatal exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate popular for residential pest control until EPA banned its use in homes in 2001 (Rauh 2011). Children continue to be exposed to organophosphate pesticides that contaminate common foods (Lu 2008, 2010).
  • Researchers from the Mt. Sinai Medical Center linked prenatal organophosphate exposures among New York City-born children to impaired perceptual reasoning, a measure of nonverbal problem-solving skills (Engel 2011).
  • Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that children born in a Latino farmworker community to women with high organophosphate exposures had children with lower intelligence scores at age 7, relative to children born to women with lower pesticide exposures (Bouchard 2011).
Biomonitoring studies underscore concern for everyday exposures as well. A scientific paper by Devon Payne-Sturges of EPA's National Center for Environmental Research estimates that 40 percent of children tested by CDC from 1999 to 2002 had unsafe levels of organophosphate in their bodies (Paynes-Sturges 2009). In May 2010 researchers at Harvard University found increased risk for attention deficit-hyperactive disorder among American children exposed to typical levels of organophosphates. EPA has taken major steps to reduce organophosphate pesticides uses in agriculture and residential settings. Yet researchers from Emory University in Atlanta have reported that young children continue to be exposed to organophosphates primarily through their diets (Lu 2008, 2010). Children eat more fruits and vegetables than adults, relative to their body weights. Studies in a California agricultural region have shown that infants are more at risk for organophosphate toxicity than older children and adults because their systems are less able to detoxify these chemicals. The most sensitive newborn was found to be 65 to 130 times more affected than the least sensitive adult (Furlong 2006, Holland 2006). A 1993 report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "infants and children differ both qualitatively and quantitatively from adults in their exposure to pesticide residues in foods" and that some children exceeded safe levels of pesticides in their diets (NAS 1993). ^ back to top Are pesticides detected in people's bodies? Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national biomonitoring program has detected pesticides in blood and urine samples from 96 percent of more than 5,000 Americans age 6 and older (CDC 2009). The agency reported finding 21 chemical biomarkers corresponding to 28 pesticides that can contaminate fresh fruits and vegetables, according to an EWG analysis of CDC and EPA data. More than 60 percent of Americans tested positive for seven or more of these pesticides and pesticide metabolites (Click here to see additional notes). ^ back to top Does eating organic food lower my pesticide exposures? Yes. Studies led by Chensheng Lu of Emory University found that elementary school-age children's body burdens of organophosphate pesticides, including chlorpyrifos and malathion, peaked during the summer, when they ate the most fresh produce. But just five days after switching to an all-organic diet, their bodies were essentially pesticide-free (Lu 2006, 2008). ^ back to top Is government monitoring sufficient to assure the safety of conventional crops? No. Both pesticide residue monitoring and dietary surveys do not adequately capture the variety of pesticide exposures for consumers. In a study of Costa Rican farmers growing produce for the U.S. market, Dr. Ryan Galt of the University of California at Davis found that 12 of 15 pesticides used on squash, and 5 of 47 on chayote were not registered for use on foods in the U.S. FDA inspection tests did not cover 71 percent of the chemicals used on squash and 61percent used on chayote (Galt 2009). Some of these chemicals, notably n-methyl carbamates, were highly toxic. Galt found that U.S. agencies made little effort to determine which pesticides were being used in Costa Rica and that Costa Rican farmers had little access to Spanish language information about U.S. pesticide standards. Between 1996 and 2006, 1.6 percent of domestic crops violated pesticide safety standards in FDA inspections, while imported crops earned violations at 2.25 times that rate (FDA 2008). ^ back to top Have pesticide restrictions improved the safety of the food supply? Yes, but not entirely. Since 1996, EPA has barred pesticide uses in 6,224 instances, including some considered to pose the greatest risks to children (EPA OIG 2010). The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act requires EPA to review the safety of each particular use of each agricultural pesticide at least once every 15 years. The agency's goal is to review of all current pesticide uses by 2014. EPA's actions under the federal Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 have been credited for major reductions in pesticide pollution, particularly those on foods commonly eaten by children. Among EPA's major public health successes:
EPA and manufacturers agreed to cancel some uses of methyl parathion"”a compound considered to be the most toxic organophosphate"”after a risk assessment showed that its use was not safe for anyone. The EPA decision reduced children's dietary risks by an estimated 90 percent (EPA 2006).
EPA phased out most non-agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos (Dursban) and restricted its use on tomatoes and apples (EPA 2008).
EPA barred diazinon use on about 20 different crops, primarily vegetables (EPA 2007).
EPA barred the neurotoxic pesticide carbofuran for all food crops at the end of 2009.​
EPA can be expected to bar more pesticide uses as scientists learn more about the mechanisms by which pesticides can harm the human body, and as the agency adopts a stronger stance on protecting public health from pesticides. ^ back to top How effective is the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996? This act, among the strongest of U.S. public health laws, requires the EPA to set health-based standards for pesticides in food, considering exposure from water, indoor air, and food and cumulative pesticides risks. It has stressed protection of infants, children and other vulnerable people. But agribusiness and pesticide companies have fought to weaken key protections in the law (Hornstein 2007). The American Crop Protection Association, which represents the pesticide industry, has waged a successful lobbying campaign to overturn EPA's decision to incorporate a tenfold margin of safety into every risk determination as an additional protection for children's health. When EPA's Office of Research and Development recommended requiring pesticide companies to conduct a powerful, sensitive developmental neurotoxicity study, the industry balked, claiming that the study would be difficult and expensive. Industry prevailed. EPA has only selectively applied the voluntary 10-fold safety factor advocated by child health experts. In 2006, the National Academy of Science concluded that EPA has used a child-protective factor on 11 of 59 pesticide assessments and in half of those cases only used a factor of 3 instead of 10 (NAS 2006). ^ back to top Are other health agencies making progress to reduce pesticide contamination in food? Yes. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation has reported that the "use of most pesticide categories decreased from 2007 to 2008... [and] chemicals classified as reproductive toxins decreased in pounds applied from 2007 to 2008 (down 1.7 million pounds or 10 percent) and decreased in acres treated" (CA DPR 2008). ^ back to top Are new pesticides safer? Pesticides called pyrethroids and neonicotinoids are being used on fruits and vegetables in place of more toxic organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. Neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides similar to nicotine, comprise the fastest growing class of insecticides. They are more environmentally persistent than other common insecticides but used in lower amounts. EPA has approved 6 neonicotinoids for food uses: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, thiacloprid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and dinotefuran. USDA produce testing has found imidacloprid on 23 kinds of fruits and vegetables, including apples, peaches, broccoli and blueberries. According to some studies, humans may not be intensely susceptible to neonicotinoid toxicity because the blood-brain barrier blocks many of these compounds from entering the body (Vale 2009). Animal studies have found that neonicotinoid exposures during gestation and early life may permanently alter nervous system functions. A 2008 study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C., found that rats tested with a single large dose of imidacloprid, during pregnancy exhibited changes to nervous system activity and sensorimotor impairment at post-natal day 30, which corresponds to early adolescence in a human. The authors concluded that treated animals had significant neurobehavioral deficits (Abou-Donia 2008). France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia have barred neonicotinoids from seed treatments because they are toxic to honeybees and have been implicated in global bee colony collapses (EPA 2010). The European Union and Japan have set limits for residues of these compounds on food. EPA has scheduled a review of these compounds for 2012.


Distinguished Member
May 9, 2007
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Marion NestlÃ
's commentary:


On the personal side: if you want to avoid eating pesticides, you can stick with the EWG 15. Washing produce before eating it is always a good idea even if it doesn't get rid of all of the chemicals (USDA studies are done on washed produce). When in doubt, buy organic.

As for the political, if ever there was a situation where more research was needed, this is it. And isn't it time for industrial food producers to find ways to use fewer pesticides? Let the produce trade associations know that you don't like their defense of potentially harmful chemic
And the USDA consumer factsheet:


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