Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations for the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, said the EWG report does not reflect that U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows apples and apple products are safe and well below U.S. allowable pesticide limits.
The Environmental Working Group, in a late April news release, took issue with the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of diphenylamine, known as DPA. The chemical is an anti-scalding agent used by many apple and some pear growers.
The European Union in 2012 declined to re-register the chemical for use on apples and pears in Europe because of data gaps that made it impossible to confirm the safety of DPA relating to the potential presence of carcinogens, according to the EWG release. This March, the European Commission reduced the allowable level of DPA on imports to 0.1 parts per million. The average concentration of DPA on U.S. apples is four times higher than that, according to the release.
Brannen said the consumer group is using the EU’s regulation as a scare tactic against U.S. consumers. U.S. apple exports have been hurt by the recent EU reduction of the minimum residue level for DPA on imports, she said, but exports to Europe account for just 1.7% of total U.S. apple export sales.
“This should not affect the livelihood of our growers to any great extent, but we are always disappointed to lose export partners,” she said.
EWG president Ken Cook on April 24 sent a letter to the EPA’s pesticide office asking the agency to follow Europe’s lead of removing the chemical from use.
“The American public deserves the same level of protection as Europeans from pesticide risks,” Cook said in the release. “We urge EPA to halt the use of DPA on U.S. fruit until a rigorous analysis (re-registration) by EPA of the chemical can prove that it poses a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers.”
Apple industry leaders said the U.S. regulation of DPA is sound, and there have been no perceived safety concerns expressed by EPA related to the chemical.
“Consumers should know that DPA levels found on apples are far below safety tolerances set by the EPA,” Carl Winter, toxicologist with the University of California, Davis, said in a news release from U.S. Apple. In fact, his work found that DPA levels on apples are 208 times lower than the EPA’s reference levels for this compound, according to the release.
The U.S. Apple release said that an independent toxicological report from Robert Krieger of the Personal Chemical Exposure Program, University of California, Riverside, found that a small child could eat 154 servings of apples every day without any effects from residues.
Brannen said registration of DPA goes back to the 1940s, and the EPA is likely to review the chemical again within the next few years. International Codex regulations have not found any food safety issues relating to DPA, she said.
Apples are again at the top of the Dirty Dozen list released by EWG in 2014, and Brannen said the consumer group counts the number of pesticides used on apples but doesn’t put those chemicals into proper context.
“They don’t tell you what the allowable limits are and they don’t tell you that in every instance, whether it is fresh apples, applesauce or apple juice, we are hundreds of times below the allowable levels, and that there are no safety issues,” she said. “We fully believe that bring up DPA this year is a way to get more media attention around their Dirty Dozen,” she said.