Tuesday, June 19, 2012

EWG's Dirty Dozen of Fruit and Vegetables Overstates Real Risk

Each year the Environmental Working Group, a consumer activist organization, releases a list it calls the ‘Dirty Dozen’ - the fruits and vegetables found to that were found to have residual pesticides based upon USDA and FDA analysis. Then the news outlets churn this report out, making consumers worry about the apples and strawberries in their refrigerator.

However, this report does not communicate the real risk. First, the levels found are well below anything that would pose an appreciable risk. Further, this ranking does not have any scientific basis. In a research article published in Journal of Toxicology (abstract below) by Winter and Katz (2011), they state:
In summary, findings conclusively demonstrate that consumer exposures to the ten most frequently detected pesticides on EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” commodity list are at negligible levels and that the EWG methodology is insufficient to allow any meaningful rankings among commodities. We concur with EWG President Kenneth Cook who maintains that “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic” [1], but our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.
It is important that consumers include fruits and vegetables as part of their diet. They should not be deterred by headlines that would make them think otherwise.

Dirty Dozen: EWG Reveals List Of Pesticide-Heavy Fruits And Veggies
Huffington Post 06/19/2012 8:05 am Updated: 06/19/2012 8:17 amhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/19/dirty-dozen-foods-list-2012-ewg_n_1606256.html

What could be purer than a single ingredient?

As health-minded consumers work to avoid processed meals and turn their focus to whole foods, we may find ourselves picking up fruits and veggies more often. The average American currently eats about 100 pounds of fresh produce per year, but that number could be a lot higher. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends adults eat two to three daily servings of fruits and veggies, only one-third of us meet that recommendation. 

Clearly, nothing should deter efforts to consume more fresh produce, the healthfulness of which is undeniable. But, as the latest iteration of an annual report reveals, there are some other considerations that health-conscious consumers must face from the supermarket aisle.

For the eighth year in a row, the nonprofit advocacy organization Environmental Working Group has released their list of the twelve most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables on the market as part of their 2012 Shoppers Guide. Overall, they found that 68 percent of the food samples tested had detectable pesticide residues -- even after they had been washed or peeled. Many of the fruits and vegetables listed this year will look familiar to those who follow the yearly report -- apples and bell peppers once again top the list.

Certain pesticides have been identified as potential carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and have been associated with learning and developmental delays in children.

"Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton
in a statement. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults."

Indeed, new research into the pesticide loads of baby food purees made with green beans, sweet potatoes and pears showed high contamination rates in both green beans and pears. Sweet potatoes, by contrast, had virtually no trace of pesticides. 

To learn more about individual pesticides and health risks, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
report on human exposure. 

To compile the rankings, EWG researchers looked at 45 popular fruits and vegetables based on pesticide-load reports conducted by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. The database includes 60,700 samples taken over a 10 year period, beginning in 2000. It's important to note that all of the testing is conducted on fruits and vegetables that have been washed and/or peeled -- the typical precautions taken by American consumers.

The researchers factor in how many of the samples test positively for detectable pesticides, how many have more than two discrete pesticides, the concentration (measured by parts per million) of the pesticides found and the highest number of pesticides found in any single sample. The researchers also looked at the total pesticide load of the fruit or vegetable crop as a whole.

And while the list is comprehensive, the ranking doesn't capture all information: For example, though apples were ranked as the most contaminated overall, imported nectarines had the unique distinction of having a full 100 percent rate of positive pesticide test results, above any other product. Bell peppers and grapes were both commonly contaminated with 15 different pesticides in a single sample -- the highest overall diversity of contamination. 

Still, even the researchers who conducted the pesticide exposure studies don't recommend giving up the "Dirty Dozen" outright. 

"The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh [sic] the risks of pesticide exposure," they wrote, recommending instead that consumers purchase organic options wherever available and then choose items from the concurrent
"Clean 15" list that details which fruits and veggies have the lowest pesticide loads and residues.

Lots of confusion when it comes to pesticides

BY PHIL LEMPERT June 19, 2012 9:55AM

Are you concerned about pesticides?

Sixty percent of consumers express a high concern about pesticide residues, much of which is based on misleading information, according to The Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization that represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes. Established in 1989, the Alliance’s goal is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables. Teresa Thorne, Alliance spokesperson, reported to us that recent surveys show that 29 percent of consumers are buying less fruits and vegetables due to concerns about pesticide residues.

The issue of pesticide residues can be very complex and terms often are used that are unfamiliar to many of us.

The Alliance’s website, safefruitsandveggies.com, is a chance for shoppers to explore science-based information about pesticide residues. The mere “presence” of a pesticide does not mean that the food is harmful, and to demonstrate this fact, the Alliance has provided a pesticide calculation tool, developed by Dr. Robert Krieger, toxicologist with the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside, to see how many servings a man, woman, teen or child could consume and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. Because of the complexity of the residue issue, the calculator was designed to be an easy way to show the very minute levels of pesticide residues that are found (when and if present at all).

For example, a woman could consume 99,681 servings of carrots in one day without any effect, even if the carrots have the highest pesticide residue recorded for carrots by the United States Department of Agriculture. A man could consume 2,640 strawberry servings under the same guidelines. A child could consume 154 apple servings, a teen could consume 233 blueberries servings, and so on. There are 14 different fruits and vegetable items to choose from for the calculation.

The Dirty Dozen is a list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) naming those fruits and vegetables (analyzed for pesticide residues by the USDA) that have the highest residues and receives an enormous amount of publicity, but scientists caution that the list is misleading and the Alliances website discussed why in great detail. They convened a panel of experts to assess the methodologies used and the recommendations made by EWG. Further, a peer reviewed study recently was published in the Journal of Toxicology by Dr. Carl Winter of U.C. Davis on the same topic.

Interestingly, although both reports were conducted independently of each other, the findings were extremely similar. Among the findings, scientists concluded that the Dirty Dozen list is not risked based, the methodology used to create the list does not follow any established scientific procedures and that consumer exposures to the pesticide residues found on these produce commodities are several orders of magnitude below levels required to cause any biological effect.

My concern is the survey finding that almost a third of shoppers are buying less produce because of the fear and misinformation about pesticides. So visit their site — get the facts and eat more fruits and vegetables. We know that they have enormous health benefits!

(Note: The Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers. They do not engage in lobbying nor do they accept any money or support from the pesticide industry).

 (Watsonville, CA) The Environmental Working Group, an activist organization, has once again released its “Dirty Dozen” list which a panel of scientists and the EWG themselves say is not risk based. Further, these scientists say that this “Dirty Dozen” list is actually misleading to consumers and should not be used when making purchasing decisions about fruits and vegetables. This list is yet another example of why 79% of toxicologists surveyed say that the EWG is guilty of over-estimating risk to consumers.    

EWG develops its list through manipulation of the
United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program results and the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s pesticide sampling data. “What is interesting is that EWG recently asked their membership to sign a petition calling for continued consumer access to ‘organic or low pesticide residue foods’ and the USDA and FDA sampling data clearly shows that this is what consumers are receiving,” says Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a group that represents both organic and conventional farmers.  

When residues are present on food, consumers can see for themselves how low they actually are by using a
new calculator tool now available on the safefruitsandveggies.com website. The calculator is based on a scientific analysis which shows that even a small child could eat hundreds or even thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable without any impact at all from pesticide residues. “This would certainly seem to fit any definition of ‘low pesticide residue’ foods,” Dolan says.

The government sampling data results also demonstrate that farmers aren’t just meeting the safety standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency, they are significantly exceeding those safety requirements. “The crops sampled by USDA are shown to have either no residues at all or residues are 10 times to 100 times below the already stringent safety limits,” Dolan says.

For consumers who may still be concerned about these very low levels of pesticide residues, they can follow the simple advice from the Federal Food and Drug Administration – just wash your fruits and vegetables. The
FDA states that washing under running tap water can remove and often eliminate any minute pesticide residues that may be present. “Whether you choose organic or conventionally grown produce, washing is a healthful practice that should be followed prior to consuming fresh produce,” Dolan says.

Perhaps the most important advice from the government came last week with the release of the USDA’s long-awaited new food icon,
MyPlate. To the applause of nutritionists and health officials, the government advises consumers to “fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.” Further underscoring the importance of this recommendation are two new studies that have shown a correlation between inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables and lower IQs and a higher incident of behavioral disorders in children. 

For more information visit the
safefruitsandveggies.com website.

Research Article
Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels

Carl K. Winter and Josh M. Katz
Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA
Received 29 November 2010; Accepted 16 March 2011
Journal of Toxicology
Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 589674, 7 pages

Probabilistic techniques were used to characterize dietary exposure of consumers to pesticides found in twelve commodities implicated as having the greatest potential for pesticide residue contamination by a United States-based environmental advocacy group. Estimates of exposures were derived for the ten most frequently detected pesticide residues on each of the twelve commodities based upon residue findings from the United States Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program. All pesticide exposure estimates were well below established chronic reference doses (RfDs). Only one of the 120 exposure estimates exceeded 1% of the RfD (methamidophos on bell peppers at 2% of the RfD), and only seven exposure estimates (5.8 percent) exceeded 0.1% of the RfD. Three quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations demonstrated exposure estimates below 0.01% of the RfD (corresponding to exposures one million times below chronic No Observable Adverse Effect Levels from animal toxicology studies), and 40.8% had exposure estimates below 0.001% of the RfD. It is concluded that (1) exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities pose negligible risks to consumers, (2) substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks, and (3) the methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.

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