Listen to Science and Studies, Not False Claims and Rhetoric

Imagine being a farmer or farm worker and working throughout this pandemic to supply a continuous supply of safe and healthy fruits and vegetables only to have an activist group refer to those products as “dirty?”

That is exactly what the Environmental Working Group (EWG) does every year when it releases its so-called ‘dirty dozen’ list. But it is particularly insulting during a pandemic as essential workers diligently continue to grow, nurture and harvest these nutrient-dense foods for consumers.  Or after freezing weather has resulted in devastating crop losses for so many farmers.

Adding to the egregiousness, government testing programs consistently show an extraordinary level of compliance among organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables to all of the stringent laws and regulations governing pesticide use.  These programs consistently find that 99% of the foods sampled have residues well below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety standards, if residues are present at all.  (Recent sampling results also showed 42.5% had no detectable residues.)

An analysis by toxicologists with the University of California Personal Chemical Exposure Program  underscores the safety of fruits and vegetables.  Their findings showed a child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable IN A DAY and still not have any health effects from residues because levels are so miniscule, if present at all.

Further, EWG won’t even acknowledge peer reviewed studies which found their annual “dirty dozen” list release hurts organic farmers as well.  One study showed that when low income consumers were exposed to ‘dirty dozen’ list messaging, they stated they would be less likely to purchase any produce – organic or conventional. 

If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that science (not rhetoric or false claims) needs to guide our health and safety choices. The ‘dirty dozen” list is scientifically unsupportable, negatively impacts consumers and it is insulting to farmers and farm workers working hard every day to provide produce to consumers.

After 25 years, it is well past time that EWG discontinues the ‘dirty dozen’ list and instead focuses on what could really benefit public health – increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. Decades of science very clearly proves that a plant-rich diet improves health and lifespan. No ambiguity there.   

Teresa Thorne, Executive Director
Alliance for Food and Farming