‘Dirty Dozen’ — Dirtier Than You Think [Opinion]

‘Dirty Dozen’ — Dirtier Than You Think [Opinion]

Having written several editorials through the years about the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) absurd annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that purportedly have the greatest pesticide residues, I really thought I was done with the topic.


What more can you say about a group that puts out a list allegedly in the interest of people’s health, when it must know full well the list’s name alone carries the not-too-subliminal message that you’d better eat organic fruits and vegetables — or else.

In fact, the EWG got so much heat from doctors and dietitians when it released the report a couple years ago, it called conventionally grown produce a “best” food for consumers and strongly urged increased consumption of these fruits and vegetables. To which pretty much everyone I know said: “Duh.”

But I thought I’d washed my hands of the issue until three recent events occurred in short order.

First came a shocking bit of insight into how EWG racks up some of its revenue. In late October, I attended the annual meeting of the California Association of Pesticide Control Advisers (CAPCA), where the keynote speaker was Phillip Hayes, who oversees food and farm practice at North Bridge Communications — a Washington, D.C., public relations firm he cofounded.

Hayes is no fan of the EWG either, and he shared how through the outfit’s ratings of various products, it gets a percentage on sales.

For example, EWG annually evaluates sunscreens, rating them on a 1 to 10, best to worst. I clicked on one of the top-rated sunscreens, which I’m sure is a fine product. It must be, as it not only provides UVA/UVB protection, it’s “gluten-free.” (No, I’m not making that last bit up.)

I scrolled down the page and clicked on an Amazon link that would have allowed me to buy the product. What people may not know, said Hayes, is EWG gets a chunk of change when you buy through Amazon. It’s not insignificant either.

He said Amazon gets 8% from every purchase, so if I had purchased the 0.45 ounces of sunscreen for the listed price of $12.32, according to Hayes EWG would have gotten $0.99. Now I hasten to add here that the group is not hiding anything. It says right there on the site “EWG may receive a commission on purchases made through the Amazon link.”

I just think most consumers don’t pay much attention to that. Probably about as many people think about that disclaimer as see the annual “Dirty Dozen” come out and think the EWG is saying conventional fruits and vegetables are a “best” food to consume.

When I got home from CAPCA, I got hit with another of the studies showing how eating fruits and vegetables — however they are grown — is critical to your health. This one, done by the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Center for Nutrition Research, found lower income people felt they’d be less likely to purchase any type of fruit or vegetable when considering the EWG’s statement about the “Dirty Dozen.”

Then came Halloween, and it’s not like I’m some kind of nut who hands out fruit to the trick or treaters. I generously hand out the candy, but I don’t feel as good about it as I used to — too many obese kids. I wonder if anyone at EWG feels that way about lower income folks not opting for fresh fruit and vegetables for their children, or if they’re too busy tallying their “commissions.”

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Eric says:

Come on…you guys must have taught Trump propaganda 101…you are a shrill for conventional,pesticide friendly ag. No one pays 8% for that type of lead…easy to make a false statement over and over until the masses believe it to be true.Go to http://www.rodale.org for more accurate info.

Alan says:

Actually, Amazon can pay more than 8% for that kind of lead. I have personally set up an Amazon Associates account to raise money for my 501(c)(3) of choice, our Elementary School PTO. We get variable commissions (many in the 6.5% range but they can go up as high as 10%) by entering Amazon.com with a special link or banners much in the same way that EWG shills products. Go to https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/ for more accurate info, Eric.

Jim pratt says:

Well written. Insightful.

rudy says:

Funny how the dirty dozen list lists the prominent fruits in different order every year, for instance apples get number one one year, strawberries the next, even though nothings really changed as to what they were or weren’t treated with. It’s a bunch of crap.

Dave Alden says:

I like both organics and conventional. Why? well some things just turn out better with conventional, but lets consider that in the last 10 years science has been working away and rather quickly finding many nearly organic ways to reduce the amount of the old time chemicals. Well, science has done so well that there are very few, very few chemicals that we still use. I’m not a scientist but compared to 20 years ago we have changed to nearly organic farming practices. Oh, well I’m still turned off by blemished and shriveled up organic fruits and organic strawberries with mold. Science I know – is working on it. But I doubt they are dirtier than you think.