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Kale joins strawberries and other fruits and veggies on annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ pesticide list

vegetables, fruits
REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/Illustration
The Environmental Working Group bases its shopper’s guide on more than 40,000 samples of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

For the first time in a decade, kale has made it onto the “Dirty Dozen” list of the fruits and veggies most likely to contain the highest amounts of synthetic pesticide residues.

Kale slipped into the No. 3 slot on the list, right behind strawberries and spinach.

The list was published Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental organization, as part of its annual “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.” The guide also includes a “Clean Fifteen” list — the fruits and veggies least likely to be contaminated with pesticides.

EWG hopes consumers will use the guide to minimize their exposure to toxic pesticides.

“Fruits and vegetables are an important part of everyone’s diet, and when it comes to some conventionally grown produce items, such as kale, choosing organic may be a better option,” said Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist with EWG, in a released statement.

But when organic fruits and vegetables are not available, consumers should continue eating conventionally grown produce, Temkin and her colleagues stress.

Based on government data

EWG bases its shopper’s guide on more than 40,000 samples of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration. Government officials washed and peeled the produce before the tests so that that the foods would resemble how they’re  prepared by consumers at home.

The USDA doesn’t test every food every year, so EWG used data from the most recent sampling periods for each food. Kale has not been included in the USDA tests for a decade, which is why its last appearance on the “Dirty Dozen” list was in 2009, when it was ranked eighth.

More than 225 different pesticide residues were found on the tested samples, according to the EWG analysis. Some foods had more pesticides than others.

Over 90 percent of the strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale samples were found to contain residues of two or more pesticides, for example. And across all the kale samples, 18 different pesticides were identified, including DCPA (Dacthal). The EWG notes that DCPA is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency and has been banned from use on crops in the European Union since 2009.

Multiple pesticides were rare among the produce on the “Clean Fifteen” list. Only 6 percent of those fruits and vegetables had two or more pesticides, and 70 percent of the samples contained no pesticides at all.

An ongoing controversy

In 99 percent of the tested samples, the pesticide residues were below the levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the USDA.

The safety of those levels, particularly for children, is highly controversial, however.

“Since 2012, the American Academy of Pediatricians Council on Environmental Health has emphasized that children’s exposure to pesticides should be as limited as possible, because pesticide exposure during pregnancy and early childhood increases the risk of brain tumors, leukemia, neurodevelopmental defects and other adverse birth outcomes,” the EWG points out.

Although organic produce is not necessarily free of pesticide residues (the toxins can blow onto organic fields from nearby conventional ones), research has shown that people who eat organic foods tend to have lower levels of pesticides in their bodies.

A study published this year in the journal Environmental Research, for example, found that the levels of pesticides in the urine of children and adults fell by 60 percent after just six days of eating an all-organic diet.

The lists

Here is the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list for 2019:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

And here is the organization’s “Clean Fifteen” list for 2019:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

FMI:  You can read the entire 2019 “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” on EWG’s website.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by David Markle on 03/21/2019 - 12:26 pm.

    Consequently we need to know if some way of washing kale, say with vinegar water or detergent water, will minimize the problem.

    What say?

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 03/21/2019 - 08:40 pm.

      Dacthal (DCPA), the carcinogen used on kale, spinach, etc., cannot be eliminated by washing and peeling, according to some scientists. It has been banned in Europe for a decade, but continues to be used in the USA.

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