Consumer Reports takes consumers by hand on fresh produce and pesticides

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Everybody knows the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears and that porridge that was too cold and  too hot but was finally “just right.”  Consumer Reports is looking at coming out “just right” in a new study about fresh produce and pesticides.

And its a study involving the same set of facts that are subject to differing interpretation and even presentation, so it can be confusing, And like that porridge, opinions abound about fresh produce because they are now available year-round because of the growth of imports.

Anybody can have an opinion because everybody works off the same set of facts—USDA’s annual test results from putting fruits and vegetables through the lab to see if any of about 450 pesticides can be detected. And there’s also the reality that fruits and vegetables contribute to good health.

Over the years, enough scare tactics have likely caused some people to swear off eating fruits and vegetables because of the role pesticides play, but in doing so have caused themselves more harm. Consumer Reports is out today with a report entitled “Stop Eating Pesticides” to show their readers how to get the health benefits from eating fruits and vegetables while avoiding the toxic chemicals.

Consumer Reports, published since 1936, accepts no advertising and pays for all the products it tests along with all its other research including the pesticide study reported in the magazine today. CR makes it clear that eating less produce is a big mistake.

“More than 80 percent of Americans already fall short of the recommended amounts of at least 2 and 1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits per day for most adults,” CR reports. “Instead you can minimize the risk by choosing fruits and vegetables grown with fewer and safer pesticides.”

The CR report includes a “Guide to the Produce Aisle” that uses color bars to suggest when non-organics are unlikely to be harmful or when organic might be the safer choice. CR also explores the six “most concerning pesticides on produce.”

Included on that list with CR’s comment are:

  1. Acephate. This pesticide can break down into a chemical called methamidophos, a compound banned as a pesticide in the U.S. since 2009 because it’s a neurotoxin, meaning it damages the brain and nervous system.
  2.  Chlorpropham. Used to keep potatoes from sprouting, this pesticide is banned in the EU because it may interfere with hormones in the body. It was found in concerning amounts on nearly every sample of nonorganic U.S.-grown potatoes and 96 percent of imported ones. It also was found in all domestic organic potatoes, although at much lower levels.
  3. Chlorpyrifos. This neurotoxin was on the brink of being banned in 2016, but the EPA reversed course after intense lobbying from the pesticide industry. It contributes significantly to the risk in nonorganic peaches.
  4. Cyhalothrin. Thought to interfere with the body’s neuromuscular system, it’s the major contributor to the risk in cherries and was found in more than half of nonorganic U.S.-grown samples, fresh and frozen.
  5.  Famoxadone. Some research suggests that this pesticide is a hormone disruptor. CR believes it should not be used on food until more is known about its safety. It’s the main reason both non-organic and U.S.-grown organic spinach fare poorly in our ratings.
  6.  Fludioxonil. This is one of several risky fungicides that’s used after harvest, and it’s thought to have hormone-disrupting effects. It’s primarily responsible for the high risk of nonorganic fresh peaches and nectarines.

On a special note, CR said “headline-making pesticides” Glyphosate and Dicamba should be probated but are not used on fruits and vegetables.

The ratings issued by CR in the report are based on USDA pesticide data from 2014 to 2018, a total of about 24,000 samples. The ratings take into account servings of fruits and vegetables that a person might consume over a lifetime, including serving sizes.

CR also says the federal policies concerning pesticides need work. “Many federal policies should be altered to protect consumers from harms of pesticides, said Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy. He says it is particularly important is a system to quickly identify banned pesticides on imported produce to keep the product out of the country

Previously, Ronholm served as USDA’s deputy undersecretary for food safety.

“The USDA must also take steps to maintain the integrity of the organic program and help farmers transition to organic, which will make the organic option more widely available,” Ronholm to the magazine. CR says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should ban the use of the riskiest pesticides and use the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) safety factor or safety margin.

CR finds organic choices are usually good, it did find organic U.S-grown spinach with 33 different pesticides in 76 percent of the samples, making it indistinguishable from the non-organic product.

And CR found almost half of the non-organic fruits and vegetables posed little risk. The worst score for non-organics went to fresh green beans, potatoes, and peaches. Where the non-organics don’t score well is when CR suggests hitting the organic aisle.

Organics do have a pricey reputation, but CR finds that it varies by season and region and often is not as much in reality.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)

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