Media Misstatements and Inaccuracies Perpetuated by Dirty Dozen Authors

7/19/2011 11:06 AM

Misstatements and inaccuracies were common in media and blog coverage of the release of the Dirty Dozen list last month.  Not surprisingly, these misstatements were often carried and perpetrated by the authors of the Dirty Dozen list themselves, the Environmental Working Group (EWG).  Below are a few of the most concerning statements, along with the corrected information.

But before we get into the misstatements, let’s start on a bright note and feature the one thing that EWG, the media and bloggers got right!

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables:

The EWG did state repeatedly that consumers should be eating more fruits and vegetables – either conventional or organically grown – for better health.  In previous years, EWG did not carry this message.  Now it can be found and featured prominently on their website, in press releases and during media interviews.  But, again, if they acknowledge consumers should be eating more produce of all kinds to improve health and that organic and conventional produce is safe then why do consumers need their list?  The answer is that they don’t!  Just wash it and enjoy! 

Now the list of Inaccuracies: 


Misinformation:  Most samples were washed and peeled before being tested, so the rankings reflect the amounts of the chemicals likely present on the food when it is eaten. – LA Times. 

The Truth:  While the USDA Pesticide Data Program does wash and/or peel produce prior to testing, the Federal Food and Drug Administration does not. EWG relies on sampling data from both agencies but negates to explain or omits the fact that FDA does not wash its samples.   EWG has even gone so far as to claim on CNN in 2010 that “the list is based on pesticide tests conducted after the produce was washed with USDA high-power pressure water system.” 

It is clear by EWG’s continuing efforts to mislead consumers that they know washing is effective and something consumers who may be concerned about residues can easily do.  But, again, if consumers know that washing is an effective way to reduce or eliminate residues, then why have the “Dirty Dozen” list at all.  That must be why they resort to “high power, pressure water system” exaggerations.

Industry Front Group:

Misinformation: The Alliance for Food and Farming, a nostalgic-sounding organization that, according to EWG, is “a pro-agricultural chemicals lobby dedicated to combating pesticide critics like EWG.” – The Delicious Truth Blog.

The Truth: The Alliance takes absolutely no money from any pesticide manufacturers or organizations representing the pesticide industry nor do we do any lobbyingThe Alliance for Food and Farming is a non-profit organization formed in 1989.  Its membership includes approximately 50 agriculture associations, commodity groups and individual growers/shippers who represent farms of all sizes and includes conventional as well as organic production. The Alliance works to provide a voice for farmers to communicate their commitment to food safety and care for the land.

Why does EWG make these misstatements about the Alliance continually in media interviews, blog postings, emails to its members and press releases?  Why are they so desperate to malign the credibility of the Alliance itself by spouting false information?  Maybe they don’t want people to hear what we have to say?

Pesticide Exposure Levels:

Misinformation: Consumers who choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG's Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower the volume of pesticides they consume by 92 percent, according to EWG’s calculations. EWG Press Release

The Truth:  Sounds meaningful, doesn’t it?  Except EWG negates to state how low these residues were – if they were found at all that is.  In fact, 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.  This collaborates the work of Dr. Robert Krieger from the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program who examined the USDA data as well and found a man, woman, teenager or child would have to eat hundreds or thousands of servings a day and still not see an effect from the low residues found during government sampling.  (Use the “Residue Calculator” on to learn more.)

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