Environmental Activist Scare Debunked

In a piece for the Huffington Post, Dr. Henry I. Miller and I take on the Environmental Working Group for scaring the public about the safety of fruits and vegetables. We also take on the scare-hungry media for reporting on the junk-science as if it had any merit.

We write, “Many of the ‘healthiest foods’ we eat may not be as healthy as we think” was the lede of a recent Channel 11news story out of Pittsburgh. It was based on the Environmental Working Group’s just released 2013 “Dirty Dozen” report on pesticide residues on produce, which is trotted out every year by the NGO. These misleading pseudo-analyses frighten consumers and actually discourage them from buying healthy fruits and vegetables.

The news story continues, “Pesticides are meant to kill pests, but the residue isn’t meant to be eaten, and it could be harmful to your health.” Actually, the only truth in that statement is that “pesticides are meant to kill pests.” The rest of it is false, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which unambiguously states that “U.S. food does not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues.”

EWG argues that they don’t actually tell people not to eat the “Dirty Dozen,” just that it is better to buy the organic versions if you can. Why? Presumably, because there’s some sort of danger from the “dirty” ones.

So did EWG put out a public statement distancing itself from the Channel 11 story? Of course not. And as we report,

such news stories are the very reason EWG releases the report each year — to generate coverage that inhibits people from eating produce that isn’t organic. Unless of course, the produce is on the relatively new list, “The Clean Fifteen,” which contain the lowest level of pesticides, according to EWG.

Is the report based on sound science? Not exactly.

EWG tries to make their “Shopper’s Guide” appear legitimate by relying on samples taken and tested by the USDA and FDA. According to an article in The Huffington Post, “The EWG looked at six measures of pesticide contamination, gave each measurement a score from one to 100 and compiled the results.

But what was their methodology, if you could call it that? “In government tests analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, detectable pesticide residues were found on 67 percent of food samples after they had been washed or peeled. We found striking differences between the number of pesticides and amount of residues detected on Dirty Dozen Plus™ and Clean Fifteen™ foods.” (Yes, they’ve trademarked the names.)

In essence their approach is (in our words), “Some produce had more residue and some had less. We put the ones with most on a list and called them ‘dirty’ and the ones with least and made a different list and called them ‘clean.’”

This type of gimmick should result in an “F” in a 4th grade science fair, not adoring coverage in major media.

Federal agencies agree that pesticide residues, even from those topping the dirty dozen list, are not in the least harmful at the levels they occur. If you think the government agencies are in cahoots with “big agriculture” and you shouldn’t believe them, consider that even the first lady in her “Let’s Move” campaign advocates consumption of more fruits and vegetables, and hasn’t insisted they be organic.

Read the full column, and feel free to weigh in on Huffington Post comments section.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.