US Analysis Finds Traces of 450 Pesticides in Popular Fruits and Vegetables

Analysis conducted by Consumer Reports on five years of data collected by the Department of Agriculture in the United States detected traces of more than 450 different pesticides in popular fruits and vegetables. In certain cases, the pesticide levels in some vegetables and fruits exceeded the CR's potentially harmful threshold.

Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a "dirty dozen" list that names the produce with the highest levels of pesticides. Among this year's Environmental Working Group (EWG) "Dirty Dozen" list includes strawberries, spinach, apples, grapes, cherries, and tomatoes among others.

CR's analysis found that about 20 percent of the produce, such as fresh green beans, peaches, and potatoes received "poor" scores.

According to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), exposure to pesticides can cause reproductive and hormonal issues, diabetes and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and ADHD, and various cancers. Pesticides also affect ecosystems by killing off pollinators and other beneficial insects.

"CR recommends buying organic when possible, to reduce your pesticide exposure and protect the environment and farm workers," Senior Policy Analyst at CR Charlotte Vallaeys said in the analysis. "Still, we realize organic can cost more, and that means it isn't always an option."

Other solutions include avoiding imported foods because they may contain traces of pesticides that are banned in the US. Also, consumers should alternate low-scoring produce with higher-scoring produce such as replacing green beans with broccoli.

In the United Kingdom, PAN found a harmful "cocktail of pesticides" in produce during their research. Oranges and grapes were in the lead, though, with PAN reporting pesticides found in approximately 87.2 percent of grapes and 86.7 percent of oranges.

CR analyzed over 24,000 samples throughout five years and calculated the rating based on pesticide levels that would be harmful to a 35-pound child.

"An item rated Poor carries a higher risk than one rated Fair or better. The risk comes from chronic exposure," the analysis said. "Choosing produce with the best ratings most of the time can reduce the chance of future harm."

Consumer Reports suggested that people try to shop as organic as possible. However, the CR analysis found that shopping organic for some produce doesn't actually lessen the risk of consuming pesticides.

The analysis found that organic spinach grown in the U.S. had a "poor" score and contained traces of famoxadone, a pesticide banned in organic farming due to its possible effect on hormones. Imported cherries and peas had "fair" scores. CR recommended only consuming food with a "good" score or above.

Consumer Reports Analyses Pesticide-Ridden Produce
Consumer Reports analyzed over 24,000 samples and found traces of over 450 various pesticides in popular vegetables and fruits. deyangeorgiev/Getty Images

But some experts fear that these annual reports might actually scare consumers from purchasing healthier food choices. Tamika Sims, the director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council and the IFIC Foundation, told Newsweek that the research does more harm than good.

"I think that it's a disservice to people to tell them to avoid all of these nutritious foods if they can't afford or don't have access to the organic option," Sims said.

Brian Ronholm, the director of food policy at CR, said the USDA should take steps to help increase organic programs and aid farmers in the transition to organic produce to make the option more widely available and less expensive.