First Post: What Others Are Saying

7/6/2011 5:46 PM

As part of our effort to provide more information about the safety of all fruits and vegetables, the Alliance for Food and Farming is launching a new blog feature to This will allow us to introduce readers to new science and studies, discuss news reports of interest, as well as counter the numerous misstatements and inaccuracies that seem to be constantly disseminated about the safety of fruits and vegetables.

For our first post, we thought it might be interesting to re-post what others are saying about the so-called “Dirty Dozen” list which was recently released.We found it gratifying that more and more journalists,columnists and bloggers understand our concerns that these lists are misleading to consumers and are a disservice to public health since they may discourage consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables. As we reviewed some of the reader comments on articles that focused on the “Dirty Dozen” list release, we were also gratified to see consumers are quite skeptical of these types of lists. Many of the reader comments focused on the importance of consuming fruits and veggies, how these lists are simply a gimmick and they reiterated the contention that the “Dirty Dozen” list is just a fundraising ploy. Some also took the publications to task for covering the “Dirty Dozen” list release at all. 

 Here are some excerpts of some of that coverage by journalists and bloggers:


Dirty Dozen Debate : Chicago Tribune

By Kelly April, June 21, 2011 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says, "Make half your plate fruits and vegetables," in its latest dietary guidelines, but a just-published list of the 12 most pesticide-laden produce could confuse those deciding what is both healthful and safe to eat. But Holly Herrington, a registered dietitian at Northwestern University, urges caution in interpreting the studies, and said, "So far, there is not a lot of research to support these findings."

A study published earlier this year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology, using the same USDA data from 2004 to 2008, said scientists found the levels of pesticides in 90 percent of cases from the 2010 Dirty Dozen were at least 1,000 times lower than the chronic reference dose — the concentration of a chemical a person could be exposed to on a daily basis throughout life before risking harm.

A person would need to eat "so much (of the produce on the Dirty Dozen) you can't even imagine," said Dr. Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

Q: Should produce be peeled to eliminate pesticides? Will this reduce the nutritional value?

A: "If the amount of pesticide is so small that it can barely be measured, it really doesn't matter much," said Nestle. "If people are concerned, they should scrub the apple or peel it."

Q: Should families give up the worst produce?

A: "No. The amounts of pesticides are usually small and people who eat fruits and vegetables, with or without pesticides, are healthier than those who do not," Nestle said.


Apple-Picking of Data Leaves Bad Taste : Montreal Gazette

By Joe Schwarcz, June 25, 2011

It isn't often that I find myself in agreement with those gallant knights at the Environmental Working Group in the U.S., who are on a quest to rid the environment of all those nasty chemicals that lurk in our sunscreens, cosmetics, cleaning agents and, of course, in our food. But I'll ride along when they urge the public to eat more fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown ones, acknowledging that the health benefits outweigh any risk posed by pesticide residues.

Call me a cynic, but I think the reason that EWG's recent new release about "most pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables" led off with this bit of sound advice was to help deflect any accusations of fearmongering. But fearmongering is an apt description of EWG's release of its Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables.

While the list is of very questionable scientific merit, it is undoubtedly an effective fundraiser for EWG. I'm not sure that mining a U.S. Department of Agriculture database constitutes "cutting-edge research," and I'm even less sure of the usefulness of the consumer guide that is generated by cherry-picking the impressive amount of data the USDA has collected. EWG claims that it is not out to scare the public, that it only strives to alert consumers as to which fruits and vegetables harbour the most pesticide residues and should therefore be purchased in their organic versions if possible. That may be the stated motive, but I suspect EWG is not averse to the donations reaped by the wide publicity the Dirty Dozen list generates.

Virtually every media report of EWG's recent Dirty Dozen news release led off with a picture of apples and a chilling headline about apples being the most pesticide-laden fruit. As a result, I fielded numerous questions along the lines of: "Is it true that we shouldn't give apples to children?" "Why are apple growers allowed to profit from illness?" "How many apples can be safely eaten in a week?" Why this focus on apples? Because they just happen to be the "dirtiest" of EWG's Dirty Dozen. Pretty convenient when it comes to garnering publicity. Apples are associated with health. After all, an apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away. Disparaging the revered fruit in some way is almost guaranteed to generate headlines and keep EWG in the news.


Publicity Stunt Aims To Scare More Than Inform

Truth About Trade And Techonology

Every year, the group regurgitates USDA studies on pesticide residue and makes a big showy splash about how "bad" some produce is. That the group doesn't like pesticides is one thing. Anyone is entitled to choose whatever he wants to eat. But to inflict that position on both farmers and consumers in a misleading manner is quite another thing.

The sad irony of such attacks is that once it grabs headlines with its scare tactics the group encourages people to eat fruits and vegetables. On its website EWG says, "Eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. ... eating conventionally grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all."

In other words, "Never mind."

Our next post will again focus on the media coverage of the “Dirty Dozen” list release. However, we will examine some of the mischaracterizations made about the pesticide residue issue and the Alliance for Food and Farming itself.

Leave a Comment …