EWG Updates Dirty Dozen list for 2022 – Should You Use It?

dirty fruit

EWG recently published their annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides In Produce. The Dirty Dozenlist includes twelve fruits and veggies with high pesticide residues. It also contains the Clean Fifteenlist of produce that has the lowest pesticide levels.

The annual guide is met with cheers and jeers. However, organic food shoppers often embrace it, while some health professionals and researchers slam the list. Let’s look at the evidence and make sure you make safe and confident grocery shopping decisions for fruits and veggies.

What fruits and vegetables are the most safe?

EWG Guide’s purpose is to inform consumers about which fruit and vegetables contain the highest or lowest pesticide residues.

Thomas Galligan, Ph.D. is a toxicologist at the EWG. He explains that the Dirty Dozen does not list fruits and vegetables to avoid. The EWG suggests that consumers opt for organic versions if they are available and reasonably priced.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Collared kale, mustard greens and collards
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Hot peppers and bell peppers
  8. Cherries
  9. Peaches
  10. Pears
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

However, if you are unable to access organic versions or can’t afford them, conventionally grown foods are safe and healthy. This point is often overlooked, but it’s crucial to remember.

Galligan says that fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. “Everyone should eat more fruits and vegetables, organic or conventional, as the health benefits outweigh any potential pesticide exposures,” Galligan says.

Studies have shown that the EWG list can cause fear among people who cannot afford organic produce. They also tend to purchase less fruits and vegetables because they are afraid of pesticides in conventionally grown options.

Galligan states that shoppers should not forgo eating fruits and vegetables because of concerns about pesticides.

The Clean Fifteen

The Guide also includes information on the Clear Fifteen which lists fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residues. This list includes sweet corn, papaya, onions, sweet corn, sweet peas, and sweet peas.

Galligan explains that EWG understands that organic food is not always affordable or readily available for all. Therefore, we created our Clean Fifteen List.

The Clean Fifteen List showcases conventional fruits, vegetables and other foods that have lower pesticide residues for those who are concerned about pesticides.

What should we do about pesticide exposure?

These lists are necessary. What should we do about pesticides in our vegetables and fruits? It all depends on who you ask.

Recent systematic reviews support the EWG’s claim that organic foods reduce pesticide exposure. 2 However, the review was done by Centre for Organics Research researchers so there may have been bias.

However, other studies not funded by organic food industries have also shown questionable effects of pesticides.

One study found a link between lower cancer risks in those who eat organic foods. However, more research is needed to confirm this finding. 3

4 Some studies show that pregnant women who consume conventional produce are more likely to have higher levels of pesticides than those who eat organically grown produce. 5

However, the majority of health professionals and the EWG agree that eating a high-quality diet is better than avoiding pesticides.

“I don’t recommend that people use The Dirty Dozen for deciding which fruits and vegetables they should buy,” said Abby Langer, dietitian and owner of Abby Langer nutrition. She is also the author of Good Food, Bad Diet.

“First, it is important to realize that pesticides are used in all types of agriculture, even organic. Pesticides that are organic can be just as harmful as synthetic pesticides. Langer says organic food is not always “cleaner”.

The Journal of Toxicology 6 published a review of the Dirty Dozen. It found the following:

  • Consumers are not at risk from exposure to pesticides that have been detected on twelve commodities.
  • Substituting organic forms for the 12 commodities does not reduce consumer risk.
  • The EWG’s methodology to rank commodities in relation to pesticide risk is not scientifically sound.

Although the study doesn’t list the sources of funding, the co-authors have performed consulting work in the conventional food industry.

Pesticides in Produce

Research shows that both organic and conventional foods can be contaminated by pesticides. However, the Dirty Dozen only provides information about pesticides used on conventionally grown produce.

Organic pesticides can be synthetic or natural. However, organic pesticides may be safer than synthetic ones.

Some pesticides can have harmful effects on human health, according to studies. This happens when pesticides are ingested in high amounts or used incorrectly. The dose is what makes the poison, as the old saying goes.

This brings us to the problems with the Dirty Dozen: It lists which foods have pesticide residues but doesn’t provide any information about the pesticides found or the amount of pesticide ingested.

Langer explains that the EWG’s methods include not reporting pesticide residues in organic food at all to not reporting which pesticides were actually discovered, how many were found and how they compare to the EPA’s acceptable levels.

These gaps indicate that we don’t have enough information for informed decisions about food safety, based only on these lists.

What is the best way to find pesticide residue?

The data used by the EWG is taken from samples of fruit and vegetables collected by the USDA and FDA. The USDA chooses only a few fruits and vegetables each year to test, instead of testing all crops.

The USDA data for fruits and vegetables used in the 2022 Guide was collected between 1994-2020, but does not include data from 2021. Why use old data? VeryWell asked Galligan the question.

Galligan says that EWG always includes the most current USDA testing data. Because it takes the USDA a long time to collect, process and test samples, the USDA releases the data one year after they have collected them. The USDA doesn’t test all types of crops every year. Therefore, the data we have is based only on the most recent USDA sampling.

EWG does not compare pesticide residues on crops from different years. Some fruits and vegetables may have information about pesticide residues that is up to 15 years old. It’s not really possible to compare apples with apples.

Do you really need to go organic?

EWG recommends that consumers choose organic produce whenever they can, especially when it comes to items on the Dirty Dozen. This advice is not universally accepted by everyone.

Langer states that the EWG is not a government agency but an activist agency. “This means the EWG has a agenda. It is supposed to promote the industries it funds, namely organic food producers.

The grocery shopper has the final say. You can choose what you can afford, get it, and then enjoy it. But don’t be afraid of conventionally grown fruits and veggies.

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