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Studies show ‘Dirty Dozen’ list is scientifically unsupportable


Since 1995, an activist group has released a so-called Dirty Dozen list. (You know which group we’re talking about — you’re probably getting that icky feeling all over just thinking about them.) That list keeps getting perpetuated despite the fact that peer-reviewed studies show it’s recommendations are not scientifically supportable, while other studies show it may negatively impact consumers since it discourages purchasing of any produce — organic or conventional.

“There are many ways to promote organic produce without resorting to disparaging the more accessible forms of fruits and veggies that the science has repeatedly shown are safe,” says Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, which represents organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables. “It is time to stop calling non-organic forms of healthy fruits and veggies ‘dirty’ and perpetuating unfounded safety fears that may negatively impact consumers’ purchasing of both organic and conventional produce.”

Some key studies about produce safety and nutrition include:

  • A study specifically examined the risk/benefit of consuming a diet rich in conventionally grown produce and pesticide residue exposure. That study determined that if half of all Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and vegetable by a single serving each day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year. The study authors concluded that the overwhelming difference between benefit and risk estimates provides confidence that consumers should not be concerned about cancer risks from consuming conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Peer-reviewed research has shown that the author’s Dirty Dozen list recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms did not result in a decrease in consumer risk, because residues are so low on conventionally grown produce, if present at all.

Thorne adds that there are decades of nutritional studies largely conducted using conventionally grown produce, which conclude that a diet rich in fruits and veggies prevents diseases, improves health, and increases lifespan.

“Since only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day, it is important to promote consumption and support public health efforts to encourage healthier diets instead of creating unnecessary fears about eating non-organic fruits and vegetables, which are wholesome, safe and more affordable,” Thorne says.

Mainstream media picked up the Dirty Dozen story and contributed to the fear-mongering. Watch as CBS This Morning painted a scary picture of spraying pesticides in astronaut suits and pesticides causing cancer. In the beginning, the registered dietitian was anti-conventional produce and preached organic only. After questions from the host, she finally said that eating more fruits and vegetables is the overall goal. 

She never went into specifics of how many servings it would take before there was an issue caused by pesticides. According to the Pesticide Residue Calculator, a woman could eat 18,615 servings of kale in ONE day (even with the highest pesticide reside) without any effect, according to the USDA standards.

When are we going to get rid of this Dirty Dozen list? The Environmental Working Group even admits that the benefits from the fruits and vegetables outweigh the risk of the pesticides. Biggest take away: Eat your fruits and vegetables, organic or conventional, and feel good about yourself. 

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