Is the Environmental Working Group’s publication of a “Clean 15” list of pesiticide-lite produce a not so subtle attempt to divide the industry? Should a listing on the “Clean 15” go on the marketing resume of commodity x in the same way a ranking on the Dirty Dozen is a supposed public reproach?

I hope not. The fresh produce industry has historically rallied pretty solidly against the premise of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen. I think the most offensive part of the “Dirty Dozen” is the moniker itself; “dirty” implies filth, carelessness, recklessness and lawlessness.

I noticed the Produce for Better Health Foundation put a feature on their Web site relating to “the buzz” about pesticides on produce.

Media coverage of the Environmental Working Group’s publication of a Dirty Dozen has been a recent hot topic on the LinkedIn Fresh Produce industry Discussion Group, and Jill LeBrasseur, communications specialist at PBH, alerted the discussion group about how PBH handled the issue.

“We crafted this piece to reassure consumers that it’s safe to eat all fruits and vegetables and that they should not reduce their intake of these healthy, nutritious foods,” she said in a post.

In an article ( called “About the Buzz,” PBH summarized the issue this way:

“TheBUZZ Pesticide residue on some fruits and vegetables is so high you should not eat them.
“WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: It’s claimed the level of pesticide residue is so high on … and in … certain fruits and vegetables that eating them should be avoided, or only the organically-grown version should be eaten. These fruits and vegetables have been cataloged on a so-called Dirty Dozen list in the media.
A 2008 USDA report on pesticide residues found that 98% of fruit and vegetable samples had no detectable residue levels at all. Of those that were detectable, the report states “the vast majority was well below established tolerances,” which are determined by the EPA as safe levels. This nation’s food supply continues to be among the safest in the world.
Even the authors of the Dirty Dozen list do NOT recommend or advise people to lower their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables are so important to good health that everyone needs to be thinking of ways to eat MORE of them. Don’t stop eating nutritious fruits and vegetables over pesticide concerns.”

The above is just an excerpt, but you get the picture.

United Fresh president Tom Stenzel also released a short statement to the media about the “Dirty Dozen,”

“It is irresponsible for the Environmental Working Group to bend these facts to suit their personal cause, confusing consumers in the process,” Stenzel said. “At a time when federal authorities strongly urge Americans to double their intake of nutritious fruits and vegetables to improve their health, creating needless alarm about infinitesimally small residues could actually discourage consumption of fresh produce, thereby negatively affecting the health of millions of American consumers.”

The PMA has no formal response to the recent CNN coverage of the “Dirty Dozen,” though Julia Stewart told me this in an email about their strategy:

“When charges are raised about pesticide residues on produce, PMA focuses on delivering the three key messages to the supply chain, the media and ultimately consumers that our experience and consumer research indicate are most effective – those messages correct the record using U.S. government data, note the public health benefit of fresh produce as per public health experts, and personalize the industry’s producers and our commitment to safety.”

Stewart also noted that PMA is supporting a pending Alliance for Food and Farming initiative that will feature a science-based communications campaign about the issue to both the trade, nutritionists and consumers.
The issue of the Dirty Dozen is not new. In fact, The Packer wrote in a 2003 about an “a notorious environmental group” attacking the produce industry with two-year old data. The Packer editorial noted that in 1995 the EWG was greeted with lawsuits using “anti-disparagement” lawsuits.

Modern day interjection: perhaps it is time to dust off those legal briefs and make another run at “anti-disparagement” lawsuits.

The 2003 edit concluded: “As United points out, the only real guide consumers need to is follow the unbiased public health advice of the National Cancer Institute: Eat 5 to 9 servings of day of fruits and vegetables for better health.”

That advice still applies today. And those commodity marketers that happen to grace the feel-good list of the Clean 15 by EWG should take it as no great honor, coming as it does from the unclean creators of the damning Dirty Dozen.