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Et tu, Consumer Reports?

By the time the annual Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce (AKA Dirty Dozen) comes out every spring, the produce industry is ready with hackles raised.

So, this spring, when the list kind of fizzled amidst the pandemic panic about sanitized produce, (does anyone remember THAT video with the guy washing produce in soapy water?) Greg Johnson and I were kind of relieved and amused.

Enter Consumer Reports and its new feature for the upcoming October print issue: “Stop Eating Pesticides.”

produce with pamelaAnd all I can say is wow. Ok, that’s not all I can say.

Here goes:

The group, typically known for ratings on everything from washing machines to supermarkets, bug sprays and—my favorite—sunscreens, puts forth some pretty compelling arguments. And their non-profit model also lends credibility the Environmental Working Group lacks.

Where the EWG typically sensationalizes information to draw the most clicks (and more donors), Consumer Reports lays it out, and the arguments seem solid. They rate domestic conventional and organic, then imported conventional and organic, canned and frozen, when data is available.

Their analysis comes up with a few items that are head-scratchers for me. Green beans, for example, got the big red X in fresh, but are OK canned. How? Both typically are eaten cooked. Peaches got the same treatment — somehow OK canned but not fresh?

Even US-grown organic spinach was in the red, and the article specifically mentions it is not recommended for small children to consume spinach. Some of the verbiage is flat out alarming.

Even some organic products, such as fresh spinach, had worrisome pesticide residue. “For the lowest-scoring items, eating a half of a serving or less per day poses long-term health risks to a young child.”

Say what now?

The Alliance for Food and Farming typically refutes the annual Dirty Dozen list, and has responded to Consumer Reports with a new blog post on SafeFruitsandVeggies.com called “Stop Confusing Consumers.”

In a blog post following the Consumer Reports release, the AFF says “Residues are so low, if present at all, a child can eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or veggie in a day and still not have any health effects from residues.”

Consumer Reports’ analysis does go a little farther, explaining the types of pesticides, and why they may come up with analysis.

They do mention in proper produce washing techniques in a sidebar, but say that washing can’t remove all pesticides.

The Good-Bad back and forth is a struggle.

However when these articles come up the bottom line is that is that time and time again, analysis by health and nutrition experts reinforce the importance of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet, and lists like this do more harm than good.

Consumers are left confused, and oftentimes avoid fruits and vegetables – especially in lower income situations.

So, we’re left wondering who, and which data analysis, to believe.

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.