Strawberries and spinach again had the top spots on the annual “Dirty Dozen” list from the Environmental Working Group.
EWG ranked kale in third place, which garnered attention given the trendy vegetable’s reputation as a superfood.
The Alliance for Food and Farming and the U.S. Apple Association were among the orgs that spoke out in defense of conventional fruits and vegetables after the list emerged March 20.
Leah McGrath, the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets, took to Twitter to emphasize the safety of all produce. Several other dietitians did likewise.
Mainstream media including CNN, USA Today, Fox News and People covered the release of the list, but AFF executive director Teresa Thorne said coverage in recent years has at least become less one-sided.
Two years ago, 43% of coverage included only the EWG perspective, but in 2018 that number dropped to 19%.
“I think the effect has been cumulative,” Thorne said.
“Over the last nine years, the produce industry’s support of the AFF has allowed us to speak with one voice and correct misinformation about produce safety and residues more effectively. This is a long-term, steady strategy which has resulted in the ability to effectively communicate the lack of scientific credibility of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list as well as how it negatively impacts consumers.
“The AFF management board’s mandate that the information and content from the AFF must be either peer-reviewed or provided by a respected expert has also been important in our success in countering EWG’s misinformation and (lessening) the media impact over the years,” Thorne said.
The U.S. Apple Association noted that its focus is on giving consumers reasons to eat more rather than reasons to eat less.
“The Surgeon General and leading health orgs agree there is far greater health risk from not eating fruits and vegetables than from any theoretical risk that might be posed by consuming trace amounts of pesticide residues,” association president and CEO Jim Bair said in a news release.
Former retail executive Craig Carlson, now the CEO and president of Chicago-based Carlson Produce Consulting, said many supermarkets consider publicity around the Dirty Dozen list a distraction.
He said most retailers and their store-level employees tell consumers that all produce is safe and that pesticide residues are nearly universally well below federal limits.
“We tell (consumers) the truth, that’s all,” Carlson said.
Thorne noted that a 2016 study in Nutrition Today found that messaging like EWG’s could influence low-income shoppers in particular to buy fewer fruits and vegetables of any kind — organic or conventional.
“It’s just time to move forward and really get behind promoting consumption versus discouraging consumption,” Thorne said.
Tom Karst contributed to this report.