Pesticides in food: Strawberries, spinach, kale have the most residue, a new report finds
Environmental Working Group announced the fruits and veggies that have the most or least amount of pesticide residue. Wochit
If you're looking for another reason not to eat spinach or kale, you now have one.
The leafy greens are ranked second and third, respectively, on Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen, a list of the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. At the top of the advocacy group's latest roster, released Wednesday, is strawberries; nectarines and apples round out the top five.
The group found that more than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides, while multiple samples of kale indicated the presence of 18 pesticides.
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"Nearly 70 percent of the produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues," the EWG said in its 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which analyzes U.S. Department of Agriculture test data.
The organization advises people to eat organic produce.
Seven percent of fruit and 11 percent of vegetables sold in the U.S. in 2018 were organic, according to the consumer data company Nielsen, which also found that 15 percent of frozen fruit and 5 percent of vegetables sold were organic.
The EWG explained that the guide was made to help consumers reduce their "pesticide exposures as much as possible" by reporting what fruits and veggies to buy organic and which conventional produce have low levels of pesticide residue.
The group pointed to research showing possibly connections to cancer and fertility and neurological problems.
EWG isn't issuing a get-out-of-the-crisper-drawer-free card for veggie haters, though.
The activist organization also has a Clean Fifteen ranking, which highlights produce with the least pesticide residue. The top five are avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas and onions.
Less than 1 percent of avocados and sweet corn samples had detectable pesticides and more than 70 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had none.
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"The federal government’s role in protecting our health, farm workers and the environment from harmful pesticides is in urgent need of reform," the EWG said.
But in December, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the its 2017 pesticide data, it called the U.S.'s food supply "among the safest in the world" and said, "More than 99 percent of the samples tested had pesticide residues well below benchmark levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency."
The data was from tests on fresh and processed foods, including fruits, vegetables, honey, milk and bottled water.
Teresa Thorne, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Food and Farming, a Watsonville, California-based organization representing organic and conventional produce farmers, said EWG has been reporting on this for more than two decades and "it's time to move away from it."
She called the amount of pesticide residue on conventionally-grown and organic produce "so low" and cited scientific research that EWG’s suggestion that people instead eat more organic produce didn't decrease their risk.
"To call more affordable and accessible forms of produce 'dirty' doesn't make any sense," she said, adding that farmers "are doing everything they can to make sure they’re providing safe fruits and vegetables for their families and consumers alike."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1 in 10 U.S. adults eats enough fruit or vegetables.
EWG said the calculations for its Shopper's Guide rely on analysis of more than 40,900 samples taken by the federal government in the last year or two, because not every food is tested every year.
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the EPA endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies’ brains.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer