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Lots of confusion when it comes to pesticides

A Golden Delicious apple soaks sunlight Mawry's Fruit Farm Crown Point Thurs. Sept. 15 2011. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

A Golden Delicious apple soaks in the sunlight at Mawry's Fruit Farm in Crown Point Thurs. Sept. 15, 2011. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 21, 2012 6:04AM

Are you concerned about pesticides?

Sixty percent of consumers express a high concern about pesticide residues, much of which is based on misleading information, according to The Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization that represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes. Established in 1989, the Alliance’s goal is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables. Teresa Thorne, Alliance spokesperson, reported to us that recent surveys show that 29 percent of consumers are buying less fruits and vegetables due to concerns about pesticide residues.

The issue of pesticide residues can be very complex and terms often are used that are unfamiliar to many of us.

The Alliance’s website,, is a chance for shoppers to explore science-based information about pesticide residues. The mere “presence” of a pesticide does not mean that the food is harmful, and to demonstrate this fact, the Alliance has provided a pesticide calculation tool, developed by Dr. Robert Krieger, toxicologist with the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside, to see how many servings a man, woman, teen or child could consume and still not have any adverse effects from pesticide residues. Because of the complexity of the residue issue, the calculator was designed to be an easy way to show the very minute levels of pesticide residues that are found (when and if present at all).

For example, a woman could consume 99,681 servings of carrots in one day without any effect, even if the carrots have the highest pesticide residue recorded for carrots by the United States Department of Agriculture. A man could consume 2,640 strawberry servings under the same guidelines. A child could consume 154 apple servings, a teen could consume 233 blueberries servings, and so on. There are 14 different fruits and vegetable items to choose from for the calculation.

The Dirty Dozen is a list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) naming those fruits and vegetables (analyzed for pesticide residues by the USDA) that have the highest residues and receives an enormous amount of publicity, but scientists caution that the list is misleading and the Alliances website discussed why in great detail. They convened a panel of experts to assess the methodologies used and the recommendations made by EWG. Further, a peer reviewed study recently was published in the Journal of Toxicology by Dr. Carl Winter of U.C. Davis on the same topic.

Interestingly, although both reports were conducted independently of each other, the findings were extremely similar. Among the findings, scientists concluded that the Dirty Dozen list is not risked based, the methodology used to create the list does not follow any established scientific procedures and that consumer exposures to the pesticide residues found on these produce commodities are several orders of magnitude below levels required to cause any biological effect.

My concern is the survey finding that almost a third of shoppers are buying less produce because of the fear and misinformation about pesticides. So visit their site — get the facts and eat more fruits and vegetables. We know that they have enormous health benefits!

(Note: The Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers. They do not engage in lobbying nor do they accept any money or support from the pesticide industry).

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