Dirty Dozen list nails applesApples are the poster child for the Dirty Dozen list this year, and it is a spotlight grower-shippers don't appreciate.

The all-American fruit is ranked at the top of the Dirty Dozen list of “worst offenders” released June 13 by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

In its seventh edition of the guide to pesticide residue on produce, the Environmental Working Group calls apples “the most contaminated produce,” jumping three spots from the 2010 list, replacing celery at the top.

“I think it is unfortunate that the Environmental Working Group continues to get a lot of cheap publicity by putting out the Dirty Dozen,” said John Rice, vice president of sales for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa. “It implies there are a lot of pesticides on the product, and that’s not the case.”

“(The Environmental Protection Agency) sets the health standards government pesticide use based on state-of-the-art science, and the vast majority of (apple) samples are well within the safety limits of EPA,” said Nancy Foster, president of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association.

Rice said the Dirty Dozen leads consumers to question the value of apples.

“What they are talking about is how many of the apples have trace elements of the pesticides, and the truth is that every year over the last 20 years we have been using less and less pesticides.”

Rice applauded U.S. Apple for putting out a news release highlighting a dozen health benefits of apples — dubbed the Delicious Dozen — on the same day the Environmental Working Group released the Dirty Dozen.

While industry leaders called the Dirty Dozen list a misleading publicity stunt and potentially damaging to consumer confidence, Teresa Thorne, spokeswoman for the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, said that media coverage of the list generally did include statements that the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweighed the risks from pesticide residues.

Sonya Lunder, senior analyst for EWG, said she is comfortable with how the group identifies the Dirty Dozen.

“The amount of pesticides varies widely by crop, and that has what has led us to name clean foods versus more contaminated foods.”

Representatives for the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association could not be reached the week of June 13, but a news release from the group June 14 said consumers who want to avoid pesticide residues in food and water should choose organic.

Leonard Gianessi, director of the Crop Protection Research Institute for CropLife Foundation, Washington, D.C., said the residues on the apples are well within safety limits.

“The Dirty Dozen is a straw man,” he said. “The (dozen) are all safe, but something has to rank No.1.”