The nonprofit watchdog group analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA between 2000 and 2009 and ranked 53 fruits and vegetables based on how many pesticides and what levels were found during federal testing. The EWG's seventh Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranked the produce from the worst (those with highest pesticide levels) to the best (those with the lowest pesticide levels).
The EWG said many of the test samples had been washed and peeled before testing, so the ranking reflects the chemical amounts likely to be on the fruits and vegetables when eaten. (The group had originally published its list in February but has now included updated information.)
But the ranking has left at least one trade group sour over the report. The U.S. Apple Association said in a statement that the EWG's guide simply lists the produce on which residue was detected, but it fails to note that the levels were below the limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency."We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic and economic times are tough," the group said in a statement. "Given the times and the fact that Americans -- children especially -- consume nowhere near the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, consumers need more reasons to eat healthful foods like apples, not less.
"Numerous health organizations, including the Surgeon General, agree that there is far greater health risk from not eating fruits and vegetables than from any theoretical risk that might be posed by consuming trace amounts of pesticide residues that might be found on those foods," the statement continued. "USApple supports responsible, research-based reporting so that consumers can get the best health and wellness advice that they deserve. Reporting on lists that encourage consumers to unfairly stay away from their healthy favorites, makes the process of getting Americans to eat better, that much more difficult."
Pesticides used on foods have been linked to such health issues as hormone disruption and cancer, the EWG said, and the group acknowledged that the health benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables outweighs the risk of pesticide exposure. The idea behind the shopping guide is to give consumers a way to limit exposure while eating the USDA's recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
"Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it," EWG President Ken Cook said in a statement. "Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic."
The fruits and vegetables that ranked highest on the EWG's list -- meaning they had the highest levels of pesticide residue -- and dubbed EWG's "Dirty Dozen" are: Apples Celery Strawberries Peaches Spinach Imported nectarines Imported grapes Sweet bell peppers Potatoes Blueberries Lettuce Kale/collard greens
The produce with lowest levels of pesticide residue as determined by the EWG, starting with what ranked the lowest, are: Onions Sweet Corn Pineapples Avocados Asparagus
Debuting on the list this year is cilantro, which had not been previously tested by the USDA. The data showed 33 unapproved pesticides on 44% of the cilantro samples, which the EWG said was the highest percentage recorded on any items included in the guide since the data tracking started in 1995. Green onions (ranked No. 29), cranberries (No. 36) and mushrooms (No. 39) were also newcomers to the list.