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When Fear Wins: Fallout From The "dirty Dozen" List

Steve Savage - Red, Green & Blue


Experts in Nutrition and Public Health agree that a healthy diet should include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods have multiple health benefits because they provide dietary fiber, trace minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidants, and a wide variety of compounds that enhance vein health, reduce cancer risk, and bind dangerous toxins (just to name a few).

Experts in Nutrition and Public Health agree that a healthy diet should include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods have multiple health benefits because they provide dietary fiber, trace minerals, vitamins, anti-oxidants, and a wide variety of compounds that enhance vein health, reduce cancer risk, and bind dangerous toxins (just to name a few). It is also widely recognized that Americans, on the whole, eat far less fresh produce than would be ideal. In fact, we would need 13 million more acres of fruit and vegetable production in the US to even meet the RDA (the amount recommended by the USDA) So the last thing we need is anything that discourages people from consuming these healthy foods. Unfortunately, there is an organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that has been quite successful at getting consumers to avoid eating more fresh produce.

The Anatomy of a Fear Campaign

The EWG discourages people from buying fresh produce by scaring them about “pesticide residues” that might be on those crops. Each year this group publishes a “Dirty Dozen” list which purports to tell which particular fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and which should be avoided from their point of view. As we will see in a moment, their ‘analysis’ has no scientific basis. But as is often the case, facts and reason can do little to diminish the persuasive power of fear.

Fear Works

A recent consumer poll by the highly reputable Hartman group reveals that the “Dirty Dozen List” and related efforts have been quite effective at convincing significant numbers of people to limit their purchases of fresh produce. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of US consumers reporting that they don’t buy more produce because of pesticide concerns is up from 18% to 29%. That is an increase of 3.1 million people in two years who are limiting their produce consumption. That means that there are now over 55 million Americans whose produce purchasing decisions are influenced by this fear (who knows how many family members are effected). If you believe the experts on nutrition and public health, what the EWG has managed to do is to exacerbate a public health “time bomb” for the future. ”Fear” is winning, and more people are limiting the enjoyment and health potential that could come from eating more fresh produce.

The Irony

What is particularly ironic about this situation is that the USDA document that the EWG uses each year to make its “Dirty Dozen” list actually documents the exact opposite of what EWG claims. The USDA collects thousands of samples of fresh produce from stores around the country and analyzes them for pesticide residues. What the data shows is that with extremely rare exceptions, the residues are well below the very conservative safety thresholds that have been set through careful risk analysis by the EPA.

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