- Kale made this year's "Dirty Dozen" list with 18 different pesticides detected on multiple samples, according to the Environmental Working Group's "2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce." The popular leafy green vegetable debuted at No. 3 on the 2019 list.
- Strawberries continued to top the "Dirty Dozen" list, followed by spinach. More than 90% of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides, the EWG said. Test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed almost 70% of produce sold in the U.S. contains pesticide residues, according to its analysis.
- The group also released its annual "Clean Fifteen" list of fresh produce with fewer detected pesticide residues. The 2019 list, in order, includes: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons. The latest list is similar to last year's with a slightly different order — and mushrooms were added this year, replacing mangoes.
The EWG said in the USDA's most recent tests on kale — the agency's first since 2009 — that more than 92% of conventionally grown samples contained residues from two or more pesticides, and some had residues from 18 different ones. Kale was No. 8 on the group's 2009 "Dirty Dozen" list, the EWG noted.
Nearly 60% of kale samples tested positive for DCPA, or Dacthal, a herbicide used to control grasses and broadleaf weeds, the EWG said. The group noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified DCPA as a possible human carcinogen. The European Union has banned its use on crops since 2009.
These annual lists, which the EWG has produced since 2004, are based on the results of nearly 41,000 samples of 47 fruits and vegetables tested by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. They typically attract much publicity — and some criticism — but since the lists often contain the same fruits and vegetables, it's not clear how much change they have inspired in recent years.
Industry-related groups often deplore the EWG's annual lists and the subsequent media coverage because they say the result is to discourage consumers from eating more fruits and vegetables.
One example is the Alliance for Food and Farming, a California-based organization of commodity boards, major farm groups and individual growers. It claimed the lists aren't based on "established scientific procedures." The AFF also said residue levels are so small on conventionally grown produce that a child would have to eat "hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues."
Still, the EWG analysis accompanying the lists could prove valuable to consumers since it includes information on how to avoid pesticide residues, the health risks that come from consuming them, discussions about pesticide regulations and the methodology used.
While many people think washing fresh produce before eating it will remove pesticide residues, the EWG report pointed out the USDA washes and peels all produce samples before testing them. The group said this "shows that simple washing does not remove all pesticides."
Recent studies found switching from conventionally grown to organic food can significantly reduce synthetic pesticide levels in the body within a week. Consequently, consumers increasingly demanding transparency from the food industry are likely to appreciate having more information rather than less about pesticide residues on fresh produce and will likely welcome this annual report from the EWG. It's also possible it will encourage more of them to switch over to organic produce.