Posted on April 24, 2013
Should I Be Afraid of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen”?
Sensational stories of pesticide-tainted foods circulate every year, but be aware of the “spin.” Every agricultural chemical must be approved for use on each specific crop – with stringent regulations. Both environmental (EPA) and public health agencies (FDA) scientists establish exponentially safe tolerance levels for human ingestion, fieldworker safety, with stringent intervals between application and harvest to minimize post-harvest residues. The U.S. Department of Agriculture randomly tests fruits and vegetables for chemical residues and produces an annual summary.
Modern technology can detect residues of one part per billion or smaller, but what is the true risk? We can easily measure residues so insignificant that they pose no scientific risk to humans. It is reassuring to have such a sensitive safety net, but USDA, FDA, and The Center for Disease Control have constantly reminded us that minute detectable traces pose very little risk.
These agencies are actually checking for the rare cases where residues exceed legal tolerance, so they can take quick action to remove questionable product from our food supply. For example, apples topped the “Dirty Dozen” list, however USDA findings showed only 1 in 744 (0.0013%) were out of tolerance. Scary stuff or data manipulation?
Parts Per Million (PPM)
A unit of concentration often used when measuring levels of pollutants in air, water, body fluids, etc. One ppm is 1 part in 1,000,000. Four drops of ink in a 55-gallon (208 liters) barrel of water would produce an “ink concentration” of 1 ppm.Parts Per Billion (PPB)
One part per billion is 1 part in 1,000,000,000. One drop of ink in one of the largest tanker trucks used to haul gasoline would represent 1 ppb.
The annual “Dirty Dozen” list comes from an organic advocacy group who portray trace residues as a mandate to purchase organic produce – with no scientific basis. Now, I certainly do not oppose organics, and consumers deserve freedom of choice. Unfortunately organics are less readily available and often cost a premium, so they are not a viable option for a large segment of consumers.
The Environmental Working Group is free to advocate organics, however they do a disservice to the general public by creating paranoia about their “Dirty Dozen” products. Instead of complimenting farmers on their high level of compliance, EWG portrays scientifically insignificant residues as potentially harmful. They use a USDA report that reflects good regulatory compliance by farms to create consumer apprehension over the most valuable elements of a healthy diet. Such misleading information can trigger avoidance of fruits and vegetables.
Alliance for Food and Farming: Read Actual USDA Pesticide Report, Not Re-Interpretation
Let’s try to simplify. All pesticides are poison, but the toxicity danger is in the dose. If you do a chemical analysis of coffee, or even organic milk you can detect minute traces of shocking things. Municipal drinking water often has an arsenic tolerance level of 10 parts per billion. However these are all considered scientifically harmless in the small doses we ingest. The important thing to remember is eating fresh fruits and vegetables has undeniable health benefits and have been proven to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.
Of course all consumers, and especially parents, need to be reasonably concerned and informed. But don’t be overly influenced by special interest groups like Environmental Working Group – or me either for that matter! Go to the established health authorities for sound scientific recommendations. Read more.
Experts now recommend half of your food consumption should be fruits and vegetables. Our farms are proud that America’s food is among the safest in the world, and our regulatory agencies work hard to maintain that standard – with irrefutable health benefits. So please enjoy your safe fruits and veggies with confidence!