How Pesticide Misinformation Leads to More Harm than Good
Many Americans are struggling to incorporate enough healthy food into their daily lives—with just 12.2 percent of adults meeting the CDC’s daily fruit intake recommendation, and only 9.3 percent of adults meeting the recommended daily vegetable intake. In 2016, the CDC reported that about 93.3 million adults were affected by obesity—a major risk factor for many diseases including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer. While consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy lifestyle that can help to lower your risk of disease over time, many Americans experience additional barriers to maintaining a healthier diet. Whether the cost of fresh produce is too high for some, or they’ve been exposed to misleading information that dissuades them from purchasing fresh produce, most Americans are not getting the healthy nutrients they need.
The first step is ensuring that there is a bountiful supply of fresh produce available, though misinformation about pesticides can also prevent people from getting the nutrients they need. To ensure Americans have continuous access to delicious, high-quality, pest-free apples, growers must take steps to protect their trees and fruit from injury or destruction by apple pests. Apple growers are required by law to abide by the Environmental Protection Agency’s strict instructions, which ensure the traces of pesticides found on apples are extremely low. An independent toxicological report from Dr. Robert Krieger of University of California, Riverside’s Personal Chemical Exposure program, found that a small child could eat 154 servings of apples daily without any impact from residues that may be present. Even if the apples had the highest pesticide residue recorded for apples by the Agriculture Department, a grown woman could consume 850 servings of apples in a day without any effect, according to the Safe Fruits and Veggies website’s Pesticide Residue Calculator.
Despite this scientific evidence, misinformation about the risk of pesticides continues to spread. Once again last year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables. EWG bases this list on a USDA Report—which finds no safety concerns, and even EWG notes that “when pesticides are found on foods, they are nearly always at levels below the tolerances set and monitored annually by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
While the “Dirty Dozen” list is developed using USDA data regarding pesticides, it suggests a much higher risk than is actually the case based on the amounts of pesticide residue present, the amounts of those foods realistically consumed, and the variation in risk posed by different pesticides—which is not accounted for. Nonetheless, it still has many shoppers concerned about eating fresh produce.
“Any report that tells people to avoid eating apples is giving harmful advice,” says Jim Bair, U.S. Apple Association President and CEO. “Instead, we should be more concerned with increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables.” And USApple is not alone in this. The American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, all say eat more fruit.
Peer-reviewed research published in Nutrition Today shows how lists like the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” have influenced consumer buying habits and contributed to shopper skepticism about purchasing any produce—regardless of whether a particular fruit or vegetable is on the list.
“Misinformation about pesticides breeds fear and confusion, and many find it easier to skip fresh produce altogether,” says Cara Rosenbloom in a 2017 Washington Post article on why a fruit- and veggie-rich diet should not be avoided due to fear of pesticide exposure. She explains that “the best thing you can do is consume lots of vegetables and fruit for their health benefits, whether you choose to buy organic or not.”
Rosenbloom cites a survey of more than 500 low-income shoppers conducted by the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, in which 61 percent of respondents shared that they felt encouraged by the media to purchase organic food. The substantial price difference for organic foods, however, is not affordable for many Americans. While USDA Certified Organic label produce may bring peace of mind to some consumers, the higher price tags can dissuade some shoppers—or even cause them to forego fresh produce altogether.
Americans should know that even if organic foods are not the right choice for their budgets, conventional produce is a safe choice, and getting enough fruits and vegetables is a critical part of ensuring your long-term health. By the time an apple has made it from the orchard to a farmer’s market or grocery store, it has been grown and harvested following the EPA’s strict regulations, it has been triple-washed, carefully stored and transported, and curated to meet your tastes. With just a rinse of fresh water, your apples are ready to enjoy.