Group targets “dirty dozen” pesticide residue fruits and veg

The Environmental Working Group, a US environmental and consumer group, recently published and obtained widespread publicity for its 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. The publication is based on test results from the US Department of Agriculture and the  US Food and Drug Administration.

The data may serve to scare consumers away from certain fruits and vegetables, those found with higher levels of pesticide residues, or cause them to switch to organic produce, but even EWG states

  • 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.
  • We definitely recommend eating produce from the Dirty Dozen™ list rather than other, less-healthy foods or snacks such as fat-, sugar- or additive-laden processed products.
  • 99 percent of samples meet legal limits, but legal isn’t always safe.
  • Buy 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.

There is no debate about the data, though there is considerable debate about its interpretation and whether the residue levels detected are harmful to humans. EWG’s states that its objective in publishing this report is to use the power of information to “ensure that food and consumer products are free of harmful chemicals”.

GallonDaily supports the objective of reducing exposure to harmful substances  and recognizes that government regulatory standards may be inadequate to reduce exposure risks to virtually zero. However, targeting the fruit and vegetables, which everyone acknowledges are beneficial, is in our view too simplistic an approach for challenging the government to strengthen pesticide regulations. The EWG “Dirty Dozen Plus™” list cannot help but deter consumers from purchasing produce in categories identified for the list by the EWG. That is not, in our opinion, a desirable objective.

For this reason, GallonDaily will not reproduce the list in this column but will refer you to the EWG website at http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php if you must read it. Two things to remember:

  1. the EWG’s report is based on US data which may be applicable to Canada only to the extent that US produce is available in Canada, and
  2. virtually all the produce tested in the US meets government standards for pesticide residues.

The legitimate debate is around whether or not those standards are sufficiently strict.

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