(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 21) Armed with new research showing that some consumers are shying away from consuming fresh produce because of pesticide residue concerns, the Alliance Food and Farming called on the Environmental Working Group to cease publication of its Dirty Dozen list unless it can prove otherwise.
Paying no heed to industry concerns, the EWG published the eighth version of its Shoppers Guide to Pesticides on Produce June 19. The guide includes the so-called “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists of fruits and vegetables ranked by presence of pesticide residue. This year’s list from EWG put apples, celery and bell peppers as the “worst offenders” of the Dirty Dozen, while onions, sweet corn and pineapples were called “the cleanest conventional produce” of the Clean 15.
Mixed messaging about fruits and vegetables from the EWG have taken a toll, said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based alliance.
In a press teleconference June 19, Dolan said headlines that same day about the EWG Dirty Dozen list included “Is the produce you eat covered in pesticides?” and “Terrifying toxic fruit list will change the way you eat.”
“None of these reports contain any balance or counter information and neither does the report itself issued by the Environmental Working Group,” she said. “This is something that has to stop.”
On June 19, the Alliance for Food and Farming issued a 20-page report on June 19 titled “Scared Fat: Are consumers being scared away from healthy foods?” The research said the impact of negative messages on food safety issue is an emerging public health threat, lowering the faith of consumers in government regulations and failing to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. Dolan said the lists make consumers feel like they are making an inferior choice when they choose conventional produce.
Christine Bruhn, director of the Center of Consumer Research at the University of California-Davis, said in the teleconference that research has shown choosing organic produce doesn’t reduce risk but it does add cost.
“I am actually really outraged by the (Dirty Dozen) report that was released today - it is pure fear mongering,” Bruhn said. “The appropriate message to give to people to enhance health is to encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables. In the online survey of 800 adults, nearly one-tenth of low-income consumers polled said they would reduce consumption of fruits and vegetables after hearing negative messaging about pesticide residues. Another 9% said they didn’t know what they should do.