EWG Fears America's Vegetables

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) scare machine rolls inexorably on, generating scary headlines and national media attention, based on nothing more than alarmism, while expert scientists and sound science-based organizations have to scramble to gain any attention. It's a truism in media: good news doesn't sell papers or garner viewers, while a press release asserting that "fruits and vegetables are killing your children" will always grab the lead.

The EWG has once again recycled its evergreen scare, "The Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues. They do this every year or so -- sometimes more often (they also love to come after "toxic toys" around each Christmas). But at what cost? These irresponsible and phony scares cause parents to be very afraid of feeding healthy, low-calorie, nutritious fruits and vegetables to their children. Or they feel that they must "buy organic," as the EWG site proposes -- although it's been shown time and time again that organic food is no healthier than regular, cheaper produce.

What about the poorer families who cannot afford the 30-50% premium on organic food? They may well resort to avoiding the "Dirty Dozen" altogether and simply deny themselves the benefits of a nutritious food source.

But the EWG claims that, no, they are not advising parents to avoid adding fruits and vegetables to the family dining table and snack bowl. They just want to make folks aware of the deadly pesticide residues they are ingesting with their food. They warn us that these pesticides, even at the minuscule exposures found on food, have never been tested and found to be "safe" by government agencies. And even if they have, what about all the combinations of contaminants -- have they all been tested?

Well, no -- but so what? First of all, it would be impossible to test each and every combination of hundreds (or thousands) of chemicals to find out if any have health effects. Such studies would take many years, many study subjects, and billions of dollars at least -- and would almost certainly find nothing. After all, we have been ingesting tiny amounts of pesticides for millennia with no apparent ill effects. We know this because trace levels of carcinogens occur naturally in the food we enjoy regularly, such as arsenic in potatoes.

Further, our general health status, cancer rates, and longevity continue to improve (except for obesity -- now that may indeed be a consequence of our safe and abundant agricultural harvests, thanks to pesticides!). Why should the EWG insinuate that these substances are dangerous when all the health data point away from that conclusion?

This alarmist group -- so expert in generating scare stories and gaining media exposure -- claim that we all have chemicals in our bodies, even in the womb. I hate to repeat myself -- but so what? Our chemical-analytical methods are so precise nowadays that we can find parts per trillion of anything we look for. The mere fact that a substance is found in our bodies does _not_ mean that it's a hazard to health. There are no data -- zero -- to show that exposure to trace levels of pesticides is associated with any adverse health outcome.

This delusional group goes so far as to include DDT among the "toxic pesticides" it attacks. DDT is perhaps the most studied chemical ever known -- and the most beneficial. No study has ever shown that DDT is a health risk to humans -- but it did help to eradicate malaria from the Western world before its precipitate and misguided banning by the EPA in 1972.

The EWG wants to have it both ways: warning us of "dangerous" levels of pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables -- but at the same time, telling us not to stop eating them. In view of the rampant obesity epidemic, how much more irresponsible and damaging to our nation's health could this group be -- and why do we not only tolerate their antics but seek them out to appear on national news shows? I think it's time we told them: we are tired of your counterproductive scare-mongering, and please go away.

ACSH's Medical Director, Dr. Gilbert Ross, appeared on this morning's Good Morning America to discuss a list compiled by the FDA and heralded by EWG of fruits and vegetables that have been found to contain pesticide residues.