March 9, 2017 – Strawberries top the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list of produce containing the most pesticides, with spinach coming in at second place.
The group’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data found that nearly 70% of samples of 48 types of conventionally-grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues. The USDA found a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide residues on the more than 35,000 produce samples tested. The pesticides remained on fruits and vegetables after washing and, in some cases, peeling, the EWG report says.
More than 98% of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide, the EWG says. A single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Strawberries also topped the 2016 "Dirty Dozen" list.
Meanwhile, pears and potatoes were new additions to the list, displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.
Here is the 2017 Dirty Dozen list:
- Sweet bell peppers
The group, as part of its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, also released its “Clean Fifteen” list of fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticides. Sweet corn and avocadoes topped that list; only 1% of those showed any detectable pesticides, the EWG says. In addition, more than 80% of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbage had no pesticide residue.
The 2017 Clean Fifteen list includes:
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melon
“Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they’re grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic,” Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, says in a statement.
The EWG’s annual produce pesticide report has drawn criticism.
Two studies, in 2015 and 2016, found that “fear is becoming a barrier to consumption,” says Teresa Thorne, executive director of the California-based Alliance for Food and Farming.
People already don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, she says. “We can’t afford another barrier to consumption, especially fear.”
The EWG’s list has been discredited by the scientific community, she says, and an analysis has found that a child could eat thousands of servings of fruits and vegetables in a day before showing any effects from pesticide residues.
The USDA says that pesticide residues on food are below the tolerances set by the Environmental Protection Agency “and do not pose risk to consumers' health.” The USDA also notes the FDA says “pesticide residues pose no risk of concern for infants and children."
For its part, the EWG says, “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 skipping fruits and vegetables."