Despite Low Consumption Rates, Studies Showing Negative Impact on Consumers, EWG Continues to Release "Dirty Dozen" List


Contact:  Teresa Thorne

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Despite fruit and vegetable consumption rates remaining low and peer reviewed studies showing that safety fears about pesticide residues result in low income consumers saying they would be less likely to purchase any produce, organic or conventional, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) continues to release its “dirty dozen” list as it has over the last two decades.

“In light of new science and information about how safety fears are impacting low income consumers, it is concerning that EWG still releases a “dirty dozen” list in 2017,” says Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF). “EWG’s list has been discredited by scientists, it is not based upon risk and has now been shown to potentially discourage consumption of healthy and safe organic and conventional fruits and vegetables.  If EWG truly cares about public health, it will stop referring to popular produce items that kids love as “dirty” and move toward positive, science based information that reassures consumers and promotes consumption,” Thorne says.

Recent peer reviewed research by the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Center for Nutrition Research and published in Nutrition Today found that EWG’s messaging which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues results in low income shoppers reporting that they would be less likely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – organic or non-organic. The IIT scientists surveyed 510 low income consumers in the Chicago area to learn more about what terms and information about fruits and vegetables may influence their shopping intentions.

 “We were surprised to see how informational content that named specific fruits and vegetables as having the highest pesticide residues increased the percentage of shoppers who said they would be unlikely to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, Associate Professor of Food Science and Nutrition,  IIT’s Center for Nutrition Research.  “The concern is that depending on the structure of the communication about pesticides and fruits and vegetables this could turn people away from wanting to purchase any fresh produce.”

“In addition to this recent research, the other important reason that we remain frustrated that EWG continues to use this decades-old tactic is that the Centers for Disease Control reports that only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and veggies each day,” Thorne says.  “This CDC statistic is especially concerning since decades of nutritional research shows that increasing consumption of conventional and organic produce can improve health and prevent diseases, like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.” 

One example of that type of nutrition research comes from a peer reviewed paper published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology which found that if half of Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and veggie by a single serving per day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually. 

As it does each year, the AFF also issues its request that reporters and bloggers review the key findings from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Pesticide Data Program Report that EWG states it uses to generate the “Dirty Dozen” list.  Among those key findings from USDA: “The PDP summary shows that, overall, pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose risk to consumers’ health. Based on the PDP data and on EPA's assessment, the small amount of pesticides found in a few of the samples present no health risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that pesticide residues pose no risk of concern for infants and children.”

Further illustrating how low pesticide residues are, if present at all, an analysis by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found that a child could literally eat excessive amounts of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues.  “For strawberries, a child could eat 181 servings or 1,448 strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues,” Thorne says.

Consumers who want more information on the safety of all fruits and vegetables can visit the safefruitsandveggies website.  This website was developed by experts in food safety, toxicology, nutrition, risk analysis and farming. The AFF launched the website in 2010 to provide science-based information about the safety of organic and conventional produce so that facts, not fears, can guide consumers’ shopping choices. 

For consumers who may still be concerned about pesticide residues, they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables.  According to the FDA, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.


The Alliance for Food and Farming is a non-profit organization formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes.  Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers.  Our mission is to deliver credible information about the safety of fruits and vegetables. The Alliance does not engage in any lobbying activities, nor do we accept any money or support from the pesticide industry.

A gift from the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) to the Illinois Institute of Technology, Center for Nutrition Research helped fund this research published in Nutrition Today, however, the AFF was uninvolved in any facet of the study nor were we made aware of the study findings until after the paper was peer reviewed and accepted by the publication.