(UPDATED COVERAGE, May 1) The Environmental Working Group issued its latest Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists in late April, accompanied by industry objections and observations that the consumer media coverage was muted for the tenth edition of the list.
There appears to be very little media coverage of the Dirty Dozen list this year, with no Associated Press wire story and no national broadcast story, said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming. Even so, she said the Dirty Dozen list is troubling and could cause some consumers to eat less produce.
“Our real concern here is that Environmental Working Group is really misleading people,” Dolan said.
For example, Dolan said the consumer group doesn’t link to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report, which includes information that the levels don’t consititute a health problem. The consumer group won’t link to the report, she says, despite the fact that their analysts use the report to create the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.
Dolan said she believes the reason they don’t link to the report is that the USDA comes to a completely different conclusion than the EWG about the risk of pesticide residues. She said consumers should refer to the USDA’s document of “What consumers should know” about the pesticide residues report before they consider the claims of the EWG.
Sonya Lunder, senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, said in an e-mail the EWG has linked to the USDA pesticide report in some previous instances and references it twice in the 2014 Dirty Dozen report. She also said the EWG shoppers’ guide received wide coverage this year in local, national and social media outlets.
Other industry leaders also voiced concern about the message of the Dirty Dozen.
“At a time when health authorities urge us all to eat more fruits and vegetables for better health, it is counterproductive and misleading for the EWG to needlessly create confusion with this list,” according to a United Fresh Produce Association statement.
The USDA’s latest data, from the 2012 Pesticide Data Program report, show that 99% of sampled products had residues below EPA tolerances, according to the statement. “With the USDA’s data in mind, consumers should feel confident about eating a diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Bryan Silbermann, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, said in an e-mail to members that the Dirty Dozen was “a sensational list meant to drum up national media attention.” PMA’s funding of the Alliance for Food and Farming helps the industry counter misinformation about pesticide residues on fresh produce with science, Silbermann said.
The EWG’s 2014 Dirty Dozen list, the tenth edition of the report, listed apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and imported snap peas. In addition, EWG said leafy greens — kale and collard greens — and hot peppers were cited as “frequently” contaminated by insecticides.
The group’s Clean Fifteen list is avocados, corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
Lunder said there were relatively few changes in this year’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists. Imported snap peas came on to the Dirty Dozen list and cauliflower was added to the Clean Fifteen and mushrooms came off the list, she said in an e-mail. She said the EPA should do more to comply with the Right to Know provisions of the Food Quality Protection Act.
The consumer group said in the release that its analysts rank produce using use six metrics including the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides.