Just like with Pink Slime or Meat Glue, you may not realize what you're putting in your body when you eat produce. The Environmental Working Group's annual report on pesticide residue – an unlabeled ingredient in food commodities – may help consumers make more informed decisions when purchasing fruits and vegetables.
Key report findings (based on 2010 government data):
- 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides
- Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues
- 78 different pesticides were found on lettuce samples
- As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals
- Every single nectarine USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues
- 13 different pesticides were measured on a single sample each of celery and strawberries
The report cautions parents that a “significant and widespread contamination" was found in pears prepared as baby food, including the pesticide iprodione – a "probable human carcinogen" that is not registered with the EPA for use on pears. Americans shouldn't be in the dark when it comes to feeding especially vulnerable infants products that contain potentially harmful chemicals, let alone chemicals that federal regulations say shouldn't be present in the first place.
The report also highlights the fact that the USDA detected many different pesticides in drinking water samples, including "the toxic herbicide atrazine or its metabolites" that were found "in every single sample." Last week, FIC reported on the EPA meeting to review atrazine's safety, as well as the health and environmental concerns raised by a number of whistleblowers who have consequently faced retaliation.
Just think – if that much pesticide is found on produce, imagine the exposure that farmworkers who harvest them undergo on a daily basis. What’s worse is that any health problems they've experienced as a result of pesticide exposure typically stays under the radar out of fear that they could lose their job for raising concerns.
The USDA says the 2010 numbers show that "overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA." While that may provide some comfort, there is still reason for concern. And when it comes to potentially harmful pesticides that pose uncertain risks, the more information that comes from reports like this the better. Consumers should have the ability to make informed food choices. It’s beyond just food safety; it’s a matter of food integrity.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.