A U.S. nonprofit representing farmers has criticized the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) latest "Dirty Dozen" list, which ranks produce items based on pesticide residues and now claims strawberries are the "most contaminated".
In a release, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) highlighted the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Pesticide Data Program said pesticides did not pose a safety concern for U.S. food.
"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," said AFF executive director Marilyn Dolan.
"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."
The AFF emphasized the EWG's list had been discredited by the scientific community, with a peer reviewed analyses finding the list used no established scientific procedures for its development.
The analysis also found that EWG’s recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms did not result in a decrease in risk because residue levels were so minute 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 said.
“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."
The AFF executive pointed to 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," she said.
"This is the message we should all be promoting to consumers.”
While the Pesticide Data Program has found 99% of products sampled had residues below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tolerances, in its list the EWG highlighted 98% of strawberries sampled by federal officials had detectable pesticide residues.
The EWG claimed that while some of the chemicals detected on the fruit were relatively benign, others were linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems.
"It is startling to see how heavily strawberries are contaminated with residues of hazardous pesticides, but even more shocking is that these residues don’t violate the weak U.S. laws and regulations on pesticides in food,” said EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder.
"The EPA’s levels of residues allowed on produce are too lax to protect Americans’ health. They should be updated to reflect new research that shows even very small doses of toxic chemicals can be harmful, particularly for young children."
In its release, the EWG cited comments from Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
Landrigan's study “Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children" led Congress to pass the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act that set safety standards for pesticides on foods.
“Parents looking for help in lowering their children’s exposure to pesticides while still eating plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables can turn to the Environmental Working Group’s guide as an easy-to-use resource when shopping at the store,” Dr. Landrigan said.