For example, about 98 percent of the thousands of samples USDA collected complied with EPA safety standards (called a tolerance). Those that did not comply only exceeded standards by inconsequential amounts—often less than one part per million.
Consider EWG’s number one villain—peaches. EWG warns consumers about the “dangers” posed by the simple fact that peaches contain traces of pesticide residues. EWG laments: “87 percent of a single sample had two or more pesticide residues” and “one sample had nine pesticides.” They note further that 53 pesticides were found on the samples of peaches tested. Yet the real question is whether the samples contain residues in amounts that matter to public health. The data strongly indicate that they do not.
USDA studies find that more than 98 percent of peaches tested (2000-2007) were in compliance with EPA’s extremely cautious standards. There were only 30 violations over 7-years and thousands of samples. In those cases, standards exceeded EPA limits by less than a part per million—with an average violation of 0.89 parts per million.
Such violations have no public health impact. EPA standards are set so that even a child could be exposed at levels thousands of times higher without ill effect. For example, research of University of Texas’s Prof. Frank Cross highlights a number of studies showing that the EPA’s risk estimates overstate pesticide exposure by as much as 99,000 to 463,000 times actual exposure. They are actually tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—times more stringent than necessary to protect public health. An occasional exceedance of one-part-per million makes no difference.
EWG also laments that a few chemicals get on the produce for which EPA has no tolerance. But these products are not applied to the produce for pest control. Most get on in tiny amounts, by accident, so low that they do not warrant EPA and USDA action or concern about public health.
In any case, washing produce has been shown to reduce pesticide residues significantly in many studies as noted on the Food and Drug Administration’s website. Of course washing is particularly important to remove dirt, fungi, bacteria and other risks created by Mother Nature.
But rather than offer constructive advice, activists would rather generate unwarranted fear. Yet the real peril lies in their advice.