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

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

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

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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.


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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Resolved to go organic in 2012? Consider these 10 points.

Over at Eco Women: Protectors of the Planet! you can find eight resolutions for 2012. A few of them make sense: turn off any unnecessary appliance; choose tap water over bottled water; cut down on meat. These are, if not necessarily environmentally sensible, at least economically sensible. I have quibbles with their list but it has modest merit.

#4 on their list “Start buying the locally grown organic version of one thing you consume…Choose one product off your shopping list and commit to finding the locally grown or produced organic alternative” is wrong on all levels. Here are 10 reasons:


  1. There is no difference in nutritional value between organically grown and conventionally grown food. (see this by the Mayo Clinic)
  2. There is no difference in taste or texture between organically grown and conventionally grown food.
  3. There is no difference in food safety between organically grown and conventionally grown food. (see this by the Mayo Clinic).
  4. While some studies indicate similar safety, some studies indicate organic may be less safe than conventionally grown food. A UK Independent story notes, “Large studies in Holland, Denmark and Austria found the food-poisoning bacterium Campylobacter in 100 per cent of organic chicken flocks but only a third of conventional flocks; equal rates of contamination with Salmonella (despite many organic flocks being vaccinated against it); and 72 per cent of organic chickens infected with parasites.” And a post on the Scientific American site notes, “Between 1990 and 2001, over 10,000 people fell ill due to foods contaminated with pathogens like E. coli, and many have organic foods to blame. That’s because organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens.”
  5. Both organic and conventional systems use pesticides. Organic farming is allowed to “natural” pesticides such as calcium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide, sodium hypochlorite, calcium polysulfide, copper hydroxide, copper oxide, soluble boron products, copper oxychloride, lignon sulfate; silicates of zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt, and host of other items. (The full list is available here in PDF)
  6. The pesticides used by organic farming can be worse for the environment. Whereas conventional farming can use synthetic pesticide that targets specific pests, organic farmers are left with choices that don’t discriminate and kill a broader spectrum of species. We know how this worked out for antibiotics.
  7. Studies show that eliminating pesticides diminishes yields. Eliminating pesticide use could cut corn yields by 30 percent, rice by 57 percent, soybeans by 37 percent, and wheat by 24 percent. That means to maintain our current level of food, it needs more land (forest or grassland) to be plowed up.
  8. Organic farming needs more land to grow its food and fiber.
  9. Organic farming needs more energy. More land takes more energy to cover. And, since they don’t use herbicides, organic farmers needs to plow more. Farmers plow to primarily control weeds (plowing harms wildlife, earthworms and such, in the soil).
  10. “Locally grown” is an arbitrary boundary. Why not eat only food that you produce in the window sills of your apartment if you want really local food? We’ve covered local grown before here. Buy stuff that makes sense. If someone is selling locally grown bananas near my place in Northern California, we know from the outset that it may well have taken lots of energy to produce—much more energy than growing it in its native habitat and shipping it to me.



Watch the video where Penn& Teller explain organic food. This is a piece from their show, Bullshit! (R-rated language)



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