EWG publishes its annual rating of conventional foods with the most and least pesticide residues to fill the void left by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has largely failed to tell Americans all they have a right to know about the risks of pesticide exposure and ways they can reduce pesticides in their diets.
The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 marked dramatic progress in the federal government's efforts to protect Americans from dangerous pesticides. The landmark legislation, which EWG played a major role in pushing through Congress, required EPA to assess pesticides in light of their particular dangers to children and to ensure that pesticides posed a "reasonable certainty of no harm" to children or any other high-risk group. This law is credited with reducing the risks posed by pesticide residues on food. It forced American agribusiness to shift away from some of the riskiest pesticides. But worrisome chemicals are not completely out of the food supply. Residues of many hazardous pesticides are still detected on a handful of foods.
A lesser-known "Consumer Right to Know" provision of the 1996 law required that EPA inform people about possible hazards to their health brought about by consuming pesticides with their food. It ordered EPA to publish and distribute in grocery stores plain-English brochures that discussed the risks and benefits of pesticides on food. These brochures were to offer recommendations so shoppers could reduce their dietary exposures to pesticides. The agency published such a brochure in 1999, but it failed to detail the actual risks of pesticide exposures and give consumers clear information about the foods with the most pesticide residues to help them reduce their exposures. EPA stopped publishing it altogether in 2007. Today, EPA offers some information about pesticides and food on its website. But it does not list foods likely to contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues nor those that pose the greatest dangers to human health. Most importantly, the EPA does not offer the "right to know" information Congress required on behalf of consumers in 1996: how to avoid pesticide exposures while still eating a healthy diet.
That's where EWG comes in. Because the EPA has not complied with the Congressional mandate in full, for more than a decade EWG has published an annual guide to help people eat healthy and reduce their exposure to pesticides in produce. Armed with EWG's Shopper's Guide, millions of people have opted for those conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables that tend to test low for pesticide residues. When they want foods whose conventional versions test high for pesticides, they can go for organic.
Some 65 percent of thousands of produce samples analyzed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture test positive for pesticide residues. That's bad news for the growing number of Americans who want to minimize their consumption of pesticides.
Parents' concerns have been validated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2012 issued an important report that said that children have "unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues'] potential toxicity." The pediatricians' organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems." It advised its members to urge parents to consult "reliable resources that provide information on the relative pesticide content of various fruits and vegetables." One key resource, it said, was EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
With EWG's Shopper's Guide, consumers can have the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with less exposure to pesticides.
Updated to 2014 2014 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™