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Pesticide-laden produce: Apples and celery top the list

APPLESanacleto rapping 
They may be red and shiny, but apples are the most pesticide-laden fruit, according to the "2011 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce" released Monday by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. Of  700 apple samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 98% contained pesticides, moving the fruit to the top of the group’s “dirty dozen” list, it said.

The guide was the seventh annual report by the nonprofit organization, which compares pesticide loads on 53 fruits and vegetables. It lists the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest levels, and also publishes a “clean 15” list of the least affected produce.

After apples, the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides were celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes,  sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce and kale/collard greens.

Fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide levels include onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados and asparagus.

The group's president, Ken Cook, acknowledged that some consumers do not have access to organic produce grown without pesticides, or cannot afford its higher price. The guide, he said, “helps consumers … to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic.”

Celery david karp latCalifornia produces over 400 commodities, including nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said that any risk of pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables is “minuscule” and would be outweighed by the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. “California farmers comply with stringent regulations regarding pesticide use,” he said.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s research,  picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from its dirty dozen list would result in consuming an average of 14 different pesticides a day. On the other hand, choosing five servings from the clean 15 fruit and vegetable list would result in consuming fewer than two pesticides per day.

Pesticides can be toxic to human health and the environment.  In a May 6 letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, leading physicians and public health experts urged the government to release the latest data on pesticide residues on produce frequently eaten by babies and children.

"A growing body of scientific evidence shows that pesticide consumption can cause lasting harm to children's brain development," wrote the group, which included USC pediatrician Harvey Karp, Stanford University pediatrician  Aida Greene and Philip J. Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

“Three recently published studies have all shown that early life exposure of children to pesticides can cause persistent problems in learning, memory and behavior. One of these studies, led by Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California, Berkeley, found that children born to mothers with the most intense exposures to pesticides demonstrate IQ deficits of up to seven points.”

To create the shoppers guide, the Environmental Working Group collected test results from the USDA and the FDA from 2000 to 2009. Using six factors that reflect how many pesticides were found, the produce was ranked based on a composite score. 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.

Karl Tupper, staff scientist with the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action Network, praised the guide as  a “very useful tool.” He added, however, that because much of the pesticides are washed off before the produce reaches stores, “It’s the farmers, farm workers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk.”

The survey did not cover soil fumigants. A coalition of farm worker and environmental  groups has filed suit against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to ban methyl iodide, a fumigant listed as a carcinogen by the state. Laboratory tests on animals have linked methyl iodide to miscarriages, cognitive impairment and thyroid toxicity. 

Sarah Schiammacco, a spokeswoman for Environmental Working Group, said that while methyl iodide is quite toxic, it would be  unlikely to remain as a residue because it is used before planting.  But it is considered to be a risk to farm workers and neighboring communities because of its potential to drift off site through the air, and to contaminate groundwater.


Farmworkers challenge approval of methyl iodide on strawberry fields

Strawberry pesticide targeted by environmentalists, farmworkers

GMO corn: An organic farmer's best friend?

-- Ashlie Rodriguez

Photo top: Red delicious apples. Credit: Anacleto Rapping/Los Angeles Times; Photo bottom: celery at a farmers market in Encino. Credit: David Karp/Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (11)

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Let's see,cheaper produce is poison.More expensive organic produce is healthier for you.Destroy the middle class and force them to buy cheap produce from corporate farms laden with corporate pesticides.Result would be a reduction in "useless eaters",with maximum profit for corporations,and elimination of healthy alternative competition.Sounds like a plan to me,but then I went to college but didn't graduate.I just could not be exploited for what they were offering.The more things change the more they stay the same and life goes on.

Ash2theb - the only GM fruit on the market today it Papaya and the only veg is sweet corn. A tomato was approved for human consumption but it did not pass muster with the market and was pulled.

Maybe you should do your own research before telling people to do their own research.

As consumers we can use our purchasing power to change how our food is produced. The more we buy organic, the more will be available. Once I realized (REALLY realized) how much garbage is in processed food and how many poisons are in that beautiful produce at the grocery store I began to make better decisions about the food I feed myself and my family. Organic produce is more expensive, yes this is true. However, the payoff in health benefits is worth it so I have sacrificed in other areas. People will pay $4 for a latte, but won't pay $1 for an organic apple? Now I choose the apple over the caffeine. I also try to buy ONLY what I need each week so I'm not tossing so much away that didn't get eaten. Lots of things we can do - shop at farmer's markets and other local sources, ask about pesticide use, grow your own veggies, etc. You can even grow small container gardens on a porch or balcony, so you don't need a lot of space. Thank you EWG for the shopper's guide!

We should take to the Aztec Traditions and Impeach Carmen Trutanich from office! He was so concerned about Cannabis not hitting the streets because they had Pesticides. Where Is he now now to protect our children from Poison???

OMg Really. . . Am 20 yrs old and i knew that most fruits and veg. are GMs so that not a surprises. . .Even if u didn't know now u do. . .So Search for GM,GMO you'll learn a lot about how petroleum glutinousness are country really is. . .oh if you use Fertilizer guess what it made from now a days let me give you hint it's what you put in car i mean u gotta get carbon from somewhere Right. . . to grow your plants.

To george penick - I would rather the EWG overestimate the risk to consumers because that would mean we are being extra careful. The food industry is one of the most deceptive industries in the US, and the things they get away with are unbelievable. Regulation needs to be more strict and the industry needs to be made accountable for their practices. Consumers have no idea where their food comes from, how its grown, what it's treated know all this would mean to have a part time job researching and no one has time for that. We need groups like EWG to do the work for us and make the facts known. The group used existing data from the FDA, so you can't say they went out and made this up. So far I don't hear the FDA denying any of the findings.

Gee, I wonder who the poster "Marilyn Dolan" is? Is she a person, or a "corporate person"? Her name links directly to a slick industrial agriculture propaganda site that neatly sidesteps the issue of potential harm caused by pesticides to the environment and people. Isn't interesting how she complains bitterly about the lack of an "opposing viewpoint" and then directs us to an entirely one-sided web page? The article here is not entirely free of opinion, but it largely science - a tabulation of pesticides found in food. Not refutable. There is no opposing viewpoint to that. Meanwhile, the site "Marilyn" (if such a person exists) wants us to view is essentially a product advertisement. Another opportunity to ask the question: "If corporations have the same rights as citizens, including the right to free speech, what would a Corporate Person use those rights to say?"

Washing and peeling conventional fruits and vegetables won’t necessarily remove all of the residues either. The USDA and FDA data used to create the Shopper's Guide is from produce tested as it is typically eaten. This means the pesticide residues were detected after the fruits and vegetables were washed and peeled (when applicable). Many pesticides are taken up by the plant as a whole and so pesticides are present not only on the skin. And in the case of apples, if you peel the skin, you would be removing the most nutritious part of the fruit and still consuming some pesticides.

"Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said that any risk of pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables is “minuscule” and would be outweighed by the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. "
That is a lie.
Pesticides are poison and there will be consequences. It is not as simple as a balance sheet where food health benefits exceed the negative account of the pesticide. Really, it is like comparing apples and oranges as a scientist would say. You can eat all the good and nutricious food you want and it will help you fight disease of all types but it wont stop you having to deal with the consequences of ingesting poison.

It is unfortunate this article does not include an alternative view, especially when a recent survey of toxicologists shows that 79% say the Environmental Working Group is guilty of over-estimating risk to consumers. For more balanced and scientifically-credible information about pesticide residues please visit

Does peeling of apples remove most/all the chemicals? How about washing of CELERY?


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