Our findings are: 1) Exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities in the 2010 EWG report pose negligible risks to consumers; 2) Substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risk; and 3) The methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility. With advancements in analytical methods, one can now find low levels of almost anything, but these sensitive findings do not relate to public health effects.

How did the authors come to the above conclusions? Exposure to the most frequently detected pesticides on the twelve fruit and vegetable commodities comprising the 2010 “Dirty Dozen” was extremely low and represented only a tiny fraction of exposure levels considered to be of health significance. Three-quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations showed consumer exposure estimates more than 1 million times lower than doses given to laboratory animals continuously over their entire lifetimes that do not show adverse effects.

In 2011, apples topped the “Dirty Dozen” list, moving up from the number four position in 2010. However, our analysis finds that exposure to the 10 most frequently detected pesticides on apples is well below levels of toxicological concern, with relative exposures between 20,000 and 28 million times lower than levels that do not harm laboratory animals. For three commodities on the “Dirty Dozen” list – blueberries, cherries, and kale – the highest relative exposure to a pesticide was at levels more than 30 million times lower than those that cause no effects in laboratory animals. Based upon such findings, it is difficult to justify warnings for consumers to avoid conventionally produced forms of such foods.

While the EWG’s methodology and interpretation of residue findings has been called into question, its recommendation that consumers eat their fruits and veggies, and their statement that “the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure” is undoubtedly worth repeating. Our work demonstrates that consumers have nothing to fear or to feel guilty about if they choose to purchase conventional forms of commodities on the “Dirty Dozen” list and further demonstrates that the existing regulatory approach for pesticides, including a safety review and establishment of appropriate pesticide application practices, adequately protects the public. So sit back and enjoy your apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale! They’re good for your health, and eating those foods would make Paracelsus proud.