Yesterday, we posted on the release of the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Dirty Dozen, a list of the top 12 most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group releases the list to encourage consumers to opt for organic, when they can, for the top 12 offenders. But there’s a little more to the story.
The list is catching flack from some quarters for fears that it will steer consumers away from fresh produce and veggies, and will lead them to eat unhealthy processed foods instead.This post on the WSJ’s MarketWatch is typical, claiming that a study had shown that low-income consumers stated they would eat fewer fruits and vegetables after being told about the Dirty Dozen; that a number of reputable sources show pesticide consumption to be safe; and that the important thing is eating enough fruits and vegetables regardless of how they are grown. Is there anything to this criticism?
Yes and no. On the one hand, there’s probably nothing to the study showing that consumers stated they would eat fewer fruits and veggies. The group that commissioned and published it is a trade group for big agriculture and they don’t publish the study or its methodology on its site (at least not that I could find, but I’ll gladly update if it turns up). The most likely scenario is that they got the result they were looking for by wording questions in the most dire way possible, and even then only got 10 percent of people to state they’d change their habits. And of course, what people say they will do has very little to do with what they actually will do. The Dirty Dozen has been around for years, but the industry can’t point to any actual real-world effects.
As for the claims that it’s better to eat conventional produce high in pesticides than no produce at all? That’s true. In fact, even the EWG agrees with that. It says right on the Dirty Dozen home page, “We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic.” What the EWG hopes the list will do is highlight areas where choosing organic can seriously reduce your pesticide intake. Each person has to decide for themselves whether the levels of pesticides in their food are something they’re comfortable with, but we use the Dirty Dozen as a way to focus our grocery spending where we feel it will do us the most good.
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