Apples top most contaminated produce list

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

File photo of a red apple.
Image: Abhijit Tembhekar.

According to the United States-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), apples rank as the most contaminated fruit and vegetable produce.

The consumer advocacy group's Dirty Dozen list, released Monday, ranks fruit and vegetables most highly contaminated by pesticides and fungicides. Apples are followed by celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce and kale or collard greens.

Cquote1.svg Pesticides are toxic. They are designed to kill things and most are not good for you. The question is, how bad are they? Cquote2.svg

—Sonya Lunder, EWG analyst.

The Dirty Dozen list is part of the EWG's seventh annual Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce along with the Clean 15 list, headed by onions, corn, pineapple, asparagus and watermelon. Consumers taking the recommended five-a-day from the Dirty Dozen were predicted by EWG to consume an average of 14 different pesticides; in contrast, those choosing from the Clean 15 could be expected to be exposed to two or less contaminants—a claimed reduction of 92 percent.

For the report, EWG synthesized data from the U.S Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration collected between 2000 and 2009. Produce was washed and peeled, if necessary, and then each was given a score based on the the level, type and number of pesticides found in the produce.

Cquote1.svg [...] crops are shown to have either no residues at all or with residues 10 times to 100 times below already stringent safety limits. Cquote2.svg

—Teresa Thorne, Alliance for Food and Farming

The lists are meant to aid consumers in making safer choices as they shop for produce. "Pesticides are toxic," said EWG analyst Sonya Lunder, "[t]hey are designed to kill things and most are not good for you. The question is, how bad are they?"

"A growing body of scientific evidence shows pesticide consumption can cause lasting harm to children's brain development," wrote a group of leading physicians and public health experts in a May 6 letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. "Three recently published studies have all shown that early life exposure of children to pesticides can cause persistent problems in learning, memory and behavior."

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Will this report influence your eating habits?

The pesticides that coat produce have been linked to various health problems says Alex Formuzis, spokesperson for EWG. Although pesticides remained after washing and peeling, Formuzis said the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables make them a better choice than most other snack foods: "If it's a choice between an apple and potato chips, choose the apple".

Pesticides and fungicides are used by farmers to kill insects, other pests, and to extend produce shelf life. The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), a trade group, criticized the new report. Teresa Thorne of the AFF said, "Not only are farmers of fruits and vegetables meeting requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for pesticide residues, but their crops are shown to have either no residues at all or with residues 10 times to 100 times below already stringent safety limits."

Sources

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