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Industry groups say Dirty Dozen report lacks credibility

WASHINGTON — The annual Dirty Dozen list released April 22 by an environmental group that ranks fresh produce by pesticide loads may not be getting traction this year because the government report upon which it is based makes clear fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of Alliance for Food & Farming.

The ninth annual report by the Environmental Working Group, EWGs 2013 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce, lists apples as the "most pesticide-contaminated produce" this year, followed by strawberries, grapes and celery. Also on the list are peaches, spinach, sweet Bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

EWG said summer-grown squash and leafy greens (kale and collards) missed the Dirty Dozen list but is also mentioned for being commonly found with pesticide residues.

The report ranks commodities and pesticide findings based on an analysis of more than 28,000 samples published by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program.

But Ms. Dolan sees a change of messaging this year. EWG is encouraging its readers to consume fruits and vegetables, while discouraging them from eating certain commodities unless they can afford to buy organic.

In a question-and-answer fact sheet, EWG said, "The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure."

Also, the PDP report upon which the EWG based its report makes clear that the pesticide findings are within U.S. sanctioned tolerances.

"I'm telling everyone to read the PDP report because it says produce is safe to eat," Ms. Dolan said.

The Produce Marketing Association sent out a similar message to members on April 22.

"Because PMA believes in the business of informing consumers and upholding the industry's commitment to providing safe produce, we must set the Dirty Dozen record straight," Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of PMA, the Alliance's largest financial supporter, said in a statement.

The United Fresh Produce Association noted the PDP report found residues exceeding tolerances were detected in only 0.27 percent of the samples tested.

"The annual Dirty Dozen publicity stunt continues to lose relevancy as consumers of conventional and organic products become more educated with real, undistorted facts about their choices in the marketplace," United Fresh said in a statement.

The Alliance and the produce industry have taken issue with the report for years, suggesting it creates fear, discourages consumption of fruits and vegetables, and does not make clear that residues are within safe limits.

"The problem is it's not based on risk," Ms. Dolan said. "If its not helping public health, they we don't understand why they publish it."

EWG also listed its Clean Fifteen list of those fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide load, which includes corn, onions, pineapples, avocados, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, papayas, mangos, asparagus, eggplant, kiwifruit, grapefruit, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.