Pesticide Traces Most Common in Apples, USDA Finds

Pesticide residues were found in 98 percent of the apples recently tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the highest rate among produce in the agency’s annual survey, the Wall Street Journal reports. In most cases, however, the pesticides found were within federal guidelines for safe consumption.

The testing revealed 48 types of residual pesticides in apples, the most popular fresh fruit in the United States after bananas. Also high on the USDA list with 90 percent of samples containing pesticides were grapes, cilantro, potatoes, and spinach.

“The data we collect confirms that consumers can assume that residues, for the most part, fall within the EPA’s tolerance level for safe food,” said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. The agency recommends that produce be rinsed for 10 seconds under cold water to remove residue.

But the high rating of apples on its pesticide residue list prompted the Washington-based Environmental Working Group to put conventionally-raised apples on the top of its most recent “Dirty Dozen” list, followed by celery and strawberries, also high on the USDA list for the number of samples with pesticide residues.

The environmental group says the health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure, but the list helps consumers decide which produce to buy organic. Its list rates produce by the quantity of pesticide residue.

The group also developed a “Clean 15” list of conventionally-grown produce with lower pesticide levels. It’s topped by onions, sweet corn, pineapples and avocados.

Produce farmers say the Dirty Dozen list causes needless worry for consumers. “It implies that something terrible is going on,” said Mark Seetin, director of regulatory affairs for the U.S. Apple Association. “But growers are doing nothing illegal. They’re just trying to keep their apples fresh and nutritious.”

Congress ordered the USDA to annually survey pesticide levels in food after Alar, widely used on apples, was linked to health risks in 1989, and the pesticide was banned for use on food.

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