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Comment: ‘Dirty dozen’ list of ‘dangerous’ produce questioned

Unnecessary concern about pesticides could backfire by reducing consumption of cancer-fighting produce

Since 1995, an activist group (Environmental Working Group) has released a so-called “dirty dozen” produce list. However, peer-reviewed studies show this list’s recommendations are not scientifically supportable while other studies show it may negatively impact consumers since it discourages purchasing of any produce — organic or conventional.

“There are many ways to promote organic produce without resorting to disparaging the more accessible forms of fruits and veggies that the science has repeatedly shown are safe,” says Teresa Thorne, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), which represents organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables.

“For example, the AFF has a web page at safefruitsandveggies.com with lots of positive information for consumers about organics,” she adds. “And it is time to stop calling non-organic forms of healthy fruits and veggies ‘dirty’ and perpetuating unfounded safety fears that may negatively impact consumers’ purchasing of both organic and conventional produce,” said Thorne.

Minuscule exposure

Some key studies about produce safety and nutrition include:

  • A study specifically examined the risk/benefit of consuming a diet rich in conventionally grown produce and pesticide residue exposure. That study determined that if half of all Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and vegetable by a single serving each day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year. The study authors concluded that the overwhelming difference between benefit and risk estimates provides confidence that consumers should not be concerned about cancer risks from consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Peer-reviewed research has shown that the author’s “dirty dozen” list recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms did not result in a decrease in consumer risk, because residues are so low on conventionally grown produce, if present at all.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program (PDP) and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) residue sampling program both found that more than 99 per cent of the produce sampled had residues far below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety levels, if present at all. The USDA stated in its report summary: “Based on the PDP data, consumers can feel confident about eating a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.”
  • An analysis conducted by toxicologists with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found a child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any health effects from residues. For kale, a woman could eat 18,615 servings in a day and a child could consume 7,446 servings.

Thorne adds that there are decades of nutritional studies largely conducted using conventionally grown produce which conclude that a diet rich in fruits and veggies prevents diseases, improves health and increases lifespan.

“Since only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day, it is important to promote consumption and support public health efforts to encourage healthier diets instead of creating unnecessary fears about eating non-organic fruits and vegetables, which are wholesome, safe and more affordable,” Thorne says.

For consumers who may still be concerned about residues, the FDA says washing your produce under running tap water often removes or eliminates any residues on organic and conventionally grown produce that may be present.

To learn more about the safety of all fruits and vegetables visit safefruitsandveggies.com.

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