USDA Report Shows Safety of Fruits and Veggies - Again!

1/29/2015 10:53 AM

Last month, the USDA released its annual Pesticide Data Program report.  As usual, this report was greeted with little attention or interest.  As we’ve speculated before, maybe it’s because the report contains really good news for consumers about the safety of their fruits and vegetables.  Headlines that read: “Report Confirms Fruits and Veggies Are Safe and Healthy” may not be considered news to many people.   Or, maybe it’s because the USDA’s findings are consistent and unchanged from previous years.

Overall, the USDA has done a good job providing press releases, quick fact sheets, summary reports and consumer Q&A’s that make the PDP content much easier to digest.  However, despite this effort, very few of us take the time to review this information.  So, each year the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) tries to raise awareness of this report so that consumers have real time information about produce safety. 

So here are some key statements from the USDA PDP report:

  • The PDP report confirms that overall pesticide residues found on the foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the EPA and do not pose a safety concern. 
  • Over 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP had residues below the EPA tolerances. Ultimately, if EPA determines a pesticide is not safe for our families, it is removed from the market. This system of checks and balances provides Americans with the safest food supply in the world.
  • The report indicates that many farmers have successfully incorporated newer, safer pesticides as opposed to older pesticides into their integrated pest management programs.  (Note: this conclusion by USDA is similar to the findings from the AFF’s Pesticide Use Trends report.)

In the spring, we can expect the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to release its annual “Dirty Dozen” list which they state is based upon the USDA PDP report sampling data and findings.  Interestingly, EWG takes this very positive news for consumers and turns it into something quite negative (“dirty”) through manipulation of the government data. 

While this approach by EWG is counterintuitive, some media outlets and bloggers routinely cover their annual “list” release.  Since 2010, the AFF has asked those who are interested in publicizing or using the “Dirty Dozen” list to simply review the USDA report findings and/or dig a little deeper into the conflicting information presented by EWG. 

So, once again, here are some things to consider before publicizing or using the so-called “Dirty Dozen” list:

  • Compare what’s on the EWG “list” and what USDA actually sampled for and when.  For instance, the 2014 “Dirty Dozen” list included five commodities that hadn’t been sampled by USDA since 2008 or 2009 and two that hadn’t been sampled since 2010. (USDA PDP Commodity History.)  
  • Which leads us to our next point:  Some of the residue samples that EWG includes in their calculations to develop their “Dirty Dozen” list are over a decade old.  How is 10+ years old information useful to consumers today?
  • EWG admits that “risk” is not a consideration when developing their “list.” From the EWG website:  “The EWG's Shopper's Guide™ is not built on a complex assessment of pesticide risks…” (Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, Methodology Section
  • Although cited frequently, EWG does not link to the actual USDA PDP report on their website.  Linking to cited reports is appropriate protocol. Therefore a lack of linkage, especially when a report is first referenced, is quite unusual.  So why no links to this government report on EWG's website?
  • In the spring of 2014, EWG called popular produce items “dirty” and “toxic laden.”  In the fall, they referred to these same produce items as “best foods” for consumers and advised Americans to increase their daily consumption for better health. 

We ask that these questions/conflicts be considered for the benefit of consumers who may become confused by conflicting messaging about produce safety (as clearly illustrated in the last bullet point).  It’s important that consumers have accurate, science based information so that they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families.   This is why the AFF is committed to continually addressing misinformation so that facts, not fear, can guide consumer choice.

Read, learn, choose but eat more organic and conventional fruits and vegetables for better health and a longer life.

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