EWG (Yawn) Trots Out Their Decades-Old List

From a media release by the Alliance for Food and Farming

As they have done for the last 20 years, today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued its annual  so-called “dirty dozen” list concerning pesticide residues and produce. In an attempt to re-spark interest in its list, EWG debuted a new fruit in the number one position this year.  In response, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) issues its annual call for reporters and bloggers to read the actual United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report that EWG states it uses to develop its list before covering the “dirty dozen” release.  This USDA report states that the findings show “residues do not pose a safety concern.”

“We aren’t surprised that EWG has a new number one this year.  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,” says Marilyn Dolan, AFF executive director. “We also predicted that the new number one would be a popular fruit that is a favorite among children because this is an EWG prerequisite for a number one placement.”

One of the main reasons for declining coverage of the “dirty dozen” is not only are more reporters and bloggers reading the actual USDA report, but EWG’s “list” has been discredited by the scientific community.  A peer reviewed analysis of the “dirty dozen” list found EWG uses no established scientific procedures to develop the list.  This analysis also found that EWG’s recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms does not result in a decrease in risk because residue levels are so minute, if present at all, on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Further an analysis by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found that a child could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues.  “For strawberries, a child could eat 1,508 servings of strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues which shows how low residues are, if present at all,” Dolan says.

“The concern we have with misleading consumers and the type of misinformation presented by EWG is that it may be undermining efforts by health officials everywhere to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Dolan says.  Dolan cites a peer reviewed study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that found conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a detrimental impact on the dietary choices of consumers, especially those with lower incomes.

“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,” Dolan says.  “This is the message we should all be promoting to consumers.”

One example of that type of research comes from a peer reviewed paper published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology which found that if half of Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and veggie by a single serving per day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually.

Consumers who want more information on the safety of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can visit the safefruitsandveggies website.  This website was developed by experts in food safety, toxicology, nutrition, risk analysis and farming. The AFF launched the safefruitsandveggies.com website in 2010 to provide science-based information about the safety of organic and conventional produce.  “Consumers deserve truthful, credible information about the safety of their foods so they can make the right shopping choices for their families,” Dolan says.

For consumers who may still be concerned about pesticide residues, they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

 

For more information:

Consumer exposure to pesticide residue far below levels of health concern
http://acsh.org/news/2015/07/16/consumer-exposure-to-pesticide-residue-far-below-levels-of-health-concern/

Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States
“Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA’s 2004–2005 TDS, continue to be at levels far below those of health concern. Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods.” http://foodcontaminationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40550-015-0018-y

Pesticide Residues in Food No Danger to Consumers
http://www.realclearscience.com/journal_club/2015/07/11/pesticide_residues_in_food_no_danger_to_consumers_109305.html

A discussion of EWG’s methodology and methods:
Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135239/

California Tests Show Low or No Pesticide Levels in Many Fruits and Vegetables http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2015/151014.htm

2010 – 2011 USDA Pilot Study Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce
“These results indicate that while pesticide residues are less common in organic produce than in conventional produce, detection of pesticide residues in organic produce is still common.” https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf

A (Half) Dozen Reasons to Ignore the Dirty Dozen
http://www.foodinsight.org/dirty-dozen-pesticides-2016-list-problems-facts

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Organic Pesticides and Labels: Good for the goose and all that…

This caught my eye this morning:

Food Chain RadioAmerican Council on Science and Health President Hank Campbell was on the airwaves Saturday with host Mike Olson and an organic trade rep to talk about labeling GMOs. Most fun was when the organic trade rep sputtered at the notion that there should be complete transparency on food labels – like pesticides used.

The trade rep protested that, saying their certification already covered it. Yes, the group getting paid by companies to ‘certify’ their status is using that certification to exempt its clients from transparency about its process. But insisted their competitors need to have a giant warning label about that part of the growing process.

You can listen to the archived version of the program here.

Rather odd that the organic folks who call for transparency of the use of biotechnology (which is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration to be safe and having no significant difference in the food) should balk at providing another piece of information that is of concern to consumers, namely pesticides.

An article at Foodnavigator-usa.com indicates consumers are quite concerned:

According to a survey released recently by Stonyfield Farms, a majority of Americans are concerned about pesticides in the food supply. The survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Lindberg International on behalf of Stonyfield, the leader in the organic yogurt category, found that 71% of Americans are worried about pesticides in their food and almost three out of four respondents (74%) would like to eat food produced with fewer pesticides.

Organic public relations types obviously like the current public perception (or, at least the misperception) that pesticides aren’t used in organic food.
An ABC News poll said that in their survey “Organic foods were described as raised ‘without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers or feed additives.'” From their sentence it’s hard to know if they said this in the survey question or if it came from the answers. Either way, it shows the wide public misunderstanding of how USDA Certified Organic crops are grown.

References

Campbell, Hank. 2016. “Real Truth In Labeling: Why Organic Groups Object – American Council on Science and Health.” Accessed January 18. http://acsh.org/2016/01/real-truth-in-labeling-why-organic-groups-object/.

Schulz, Hank. 2016. “Survey Reveals Consumers Want to Avoid Pesticides, but Are Unsure How Label Certifications Help Them Do That.” Accessed January 18. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Survey-reveals-consumers-want-to-avoid-pesticides-but-are-unsure-how-label-certifications-help-them-do-that.

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For Mice and Men, Dose Doth Make the Poison

Substance

Image by ky_olsen via Flickr

My latest Green Chain column in today’s Lake County Record-Bee:

Every day, I make my wife and myself a cup of coffee. Should I be arrested for spousal abuse? I am serving her a phenol-laced liquid, containing 826 volatile chemical substances, 16 of which are known by the state of California to cause cancer. One cup of this hot and astoundingly delicious pick-me-up contains at least 10 milligrams of known carcinogens including: caffeic acid, catechol, furfural, hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide.[1]

In one cup, my wife and I take in more carcinogens than we would from one year’s worth of pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables. [2]

Let’s be clear: we are talking about food from plants, not just coffee; you can find naturally occurring carcinogenic chemicals in all kinds of food. Honey contains benzyl acetate. Orange juice and black peppers harbor d-limonene. Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, collard greens, and horseradishes contain allyl isothiocyanate. And neochlorogenic acid lurks in apples, apricots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cherries, coffee, kale, peaches, and pears. These are but a few; the list goes on. Whether the plant was grown without any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers is not the issue.

Just as some plants grow spines to hinder grazing, plants produce their own chemical pesticides, to combat predators and competitors. No human put them there. These natural pesticides help the plant ward off insects and animals and even other plants. That is why you will find chemicals such as allyl isothiocyanate and/or neochlorogenic acid in apples, apricots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cherries, coffee, collard greens, horseradishes, kale, peaches, and pears. The plants themselves developed the chemicals.

Researchers apply the Ames test to determine if a chemical has mutagenic (potentially cancer causing) properties. Developed in the 1970s, the Ames test doses bacteria, which reproduce rapidly, with the chemical being tested to see if mutations result. At that time scientists assumed only a small number of substances would cause cancer. Instead about half of the chemicals tested, whether man-made or natural, turn up positive as being rodent carcinogens. [3] So, Dr. Ames (the man who developed the cancer tests) notes we need to “rethink what we’re doing with animal cancer testing.”

“We’re eating natural pesticides,” Dr. Ames points out, “And we eat roughly 1,500 milligrams of them per day. We eat 0.09 milligrams of synthetic pesticide residues.” [4] In other words, each day we eat over 16,600 times more natural pesticide than synthetic.

Exposure to pesticides isn’t the same as toxicity because the toxicity of a substance depends on the amount. Even that chemical which our life needs, dihydrogen oxide (H2O, water), can be poisonous if you drink too much of it. As Paracelsus, the so-called father of toxicology, noted, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.” [5] Or, as it’s paraphrased, “Dose makes the poison.”

About a month ago in the original Peet’s Coffeehouse in Berkeley, I stood behind a woman quizzing the barista if Peet’s used chemicals to produce its decaffeinated coffee. (Never mind that the Swiss Water Process uses water, a chemical composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom.) The barista assured her the levels of the chemicals used were too low to be of concern (“Dose makes the poison”). I pointed out that coffee already has 16 chemicals known to be carcinogenic; why worry about the minuscule amount of synthetic ones. She frowned at me. I think her next purchase was to be a chemical-free chemistry set for her grandson. (You think I made that up? “Chemistry 60” with its “60 fun activities with no chemicals” costs $21.88 on Amazon.com [6]. Don’t the makers know that water is…oh never mind.)

The moral of this story is eating fruits and vegetables that have many of these chemicals is much healthier for you than avoiding them. The jury remains deadlocked on the coffee.

Footnotes:
[1] Ames, Bruce N., M Profet, AND Lois Swirsky Gold, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 87, pp. 7777-7781, October 1990, Medical Sciences, “Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural)

[2] Dr. Bruce Ames, Reason Magazine, Of Mice and Men (http://reason.com/archives/1994/11/01/of-mice-and-men/singlepage)

[3] Ames writes in Spiked.com, “The main rule in toxicology is that ‘the dose makes the poison‘. At some level, every chemical becomes toxic, but there are safe levels below that.

“In contrast to that rule, a scientific consensus evolved in the 1970s that we should treat carcinogens differently, that we should assume that even low doses might cause cancer, even though we lacked the methods for measuring carcinogenic effects at low levels. In large part, this assumption was based on the idea that mutagens – chemicals that cause changes in DNA – are carcinogens and that the risk of mutations was directly related to the number of mutagens introduced into a cell.

It was also assumed that:

1. only a small proportion of chemicals would have carcinogenic potential;

2. testing at a high dose would not produce a carcinogenic effect unique to the high dose; and

3. carcinogens were likely to be synthetic industrial chemicals.

It is time to take account of information indicating that all three assumptions are wrong.”

http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/0000000CA8AA.htm

[4] Ibid

[5] http://learn.caim.yale.edu/chemsafe/references/dose.html

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-Electronics-Inc-EDU-7075-Chem/dp/B002MR05HM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308866720&sr=8-1

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