Strawberries Top the ‘Dirty Dozen’ List of Produce Containing Pesticides

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Are strawberries bad for you?

Well, no, they’re not. Well, maybe. The answer depends on who you ask and possibly where the fruit comes from.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which hails itself as a non-partisan group aimed at cleaning up our environment, has released its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of produce containing the most pesticides. Topping the list this year? Strawberries, one of the least expensive, tastiest berries that consumers can find at the market.

Credit: Republic of Korea/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Per the EWG, their “Dirty Dozen” list (which they have trademarked) also includes spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples. According to EWG, these fruits and vegetables “tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide,” they report in a news release. “The most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.”

In what almost reads like a statement from a political campaign, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), which represents both organic and conventional farmers, fired back with their own news release. “We aren’t surprised that EWG has a new number one this year,” they wrote. “We even predicted it since media coverage of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ list has fallen dramatically in the last five years and reached an all-time low last year,” said Marilyn Dolan, AFF Executive Director. “We also predicted that the new number one would be a popular fruit that is a favorite among children because this is an EWG prerequisite for a number one placement.”

For their part, EWG claimed strawberries topped the list last year, too (and it did; this reporter looked up last year’s list). The AFF release urges bloggers and journalists to read the actual report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it pertains to pesticides on fruits and vegetables.

Related: The Deadly Foods We Enjoy vs. The Ones We Should Actually Be Eating

“EPA has determined the extremely low levels of those residues are not a food safety risk, and the presence of such residues does not pose a safety concern,” the USDA proclaimed in a news release that accompanied their report last year.

“Each year, the Pesticide Data Program uses rigorous sampling and the most current laboratory methods to test a wide variety of domestic and imported foods.  Again, the resulting data in this year’s report gives consumers confidence that the products they buy for their families are safe and wholesome,” said Dr. Ruihong Guo, Deputy Administrator of the AMS Science and Technology Program, in the USDA news release.

Credit: Michael Coghlan/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The EWG pushes consumers to only buy organic produce for their families to ensure they are feeding them the healthiest, safest food possible. But organic foods can be far out of the range of pocketbooks for many American families, who struggle just to put food on the table and pay for healthcare costs.

Also, the EWG released its trademarked “Clean Fifteen” list of produce least likely to contain pesticides. Making the list were sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.

Globally, the food industry is an $8 trillion annual business, per Plunkett research. The organic sector alone is an $80 billion annual business. It’s important for consumers to be wary of any special interest group, from those who represent organic food producers to those representing farmers pumping animals full of GMOs, and to look at everything they read with a discerning eye.

Bottom line? A healthy diet needs to include fruits and vegetables, and most Americans aren’t getting enough of them. A 2015 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said only about one in 10 Americans get enough of both.

Related: New Study Busts the Myth That Healthy Foods Cost More

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”