Study: No measurable consumer health benefit for following Dirty Dozen list - The Packer

Study: No measurable consumer health benefit for following Dirty Dozen list

06/15/2011 03:17:00 PM
Tom Karst

The Dirty Dozen is a low blow to growers, we agree. But is the science behind it suspect? Here is a scientific perspective on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen methodology.

The report, found in the Journal of Toxicology, is called “Research Article Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels” and was authored by Carl K. Winter and Josh M. Katz.


The report looked at the 2010 EWG rankings. From the research article:

 In June 2010, the EWG released its most recent “Dirty Dozen” list [1]. Topping the list as the most contaminated commodity was celery, followed by peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale, potatoes, and grapes (imported). According to an EWG news release, “consumers can lower their pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding conventionally grown varieties of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables.”

It is unclear how the EWG could make such a statement since the methodology used to rank the various fruits and vegetables did not specifically quantify consumer exposure to pesticide residues in such foods. Instead, the methodology provided six separate indicators of contamination, including (1) percentage of samples tested with detectable residues, (2) percentage of samples with two or more pesticides detected, (3) average number of pesticides found on a single sample, (4) average amount of all pesticides found, (5) maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample, and (6) total number of pesticides found on the commodity. Each of these indicators was normalized among the 49 most frequently consumed fruits and vegetables, and a total score was developed to form the basis for the rankings. Since none of these indicators specifically considered exposure (the product of food consumption and residue levels), it is difficult to see how the EWG could substantiate the claim that consumers could lower their pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding conventional forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities. Additionally, the toxicological significance of consumer exposure to pesticides in the diet is also not addressed through an appropriate comparison of exposure estimates with toxicological endpoints such as the reference dose (RfD) or the acceptable daily intake (ADI).

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Alex Formuzis    
Washington, DC  |  October, 24, 2011 at 01:54 PM

Leading Scientists Rely on and Back EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides By Sonya Lunder and Alex Formuzis A central theme of today’s Food Day is to work toward a more sustainable, healthy, less chemical-intensive food and farm system in the U.S. The Environmental Working Group shares this goal and thought it important for those concerned about the presence of toxic chemicals in food that nationally-recognized public health experts have endorsed EWG’s approach to creating its popular Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Chensheng (Alex) Lu, Associate Professor of Environmental Exposure Biology at Harvard School of Public Health has advised parents and caregivers to use the Shopper’s Guide to “keep nutritional foods in their children’s diets but avoid the intake of pesticide residues in the high-pesticide-risk items.” Lu’s comments came in a study published in the federally-funded journal Environmental Health Perspectives, that found that about half of the foods most frequently eaten by children were on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list. Full post here:

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