by: Consumer Health Staff

A recent report from Consumer Reports reveals unsafe levels of pesticide residues on certain fresh fruits and vegetables, including many that are grown in the United States. The produce was scored based on how many samples contained pesticides, the average amount, and the toxicity of particular pesticides found. The test data is from USDA testing, with foods prepared as they would be at home (bananas and oranges peeled, etc.). Each sample was a composite of about five pounds of produce. A score over 100 is cause for concern.

Here are the worst:

Type of produce and Score:

Peaches, domestically grown (N. America)- 4,848
Peaches from Chile- 471
Winter squash, domestically grown- 1,706
Apples, domestically grown- 550
Pears, domestically grown- 435
Pears from Mexico- 415
Spinach, domestically grown- 349
Spinach from Mexico- 256
Grapes, domestically grown- 228
Grapes from Chile- 339
Celery, domestically grown- 255
Green beans, domestically grown- 222

* Full table is available at under "Pesticides" heading, topic "Do You Know What You're Eating?"

Surprisingly, bananas, which used to be heavily dosed with pesticides, scored only 4. One chemical, methyl parathion, accounts for more than 90 percent of the total toxicity load of peaches, apples, pears, green beans and peas. The high toxicity values for winter squash from the U.S. are almost entirely due to residues of dieldrin, a very toxic, carcinogenic insecticide that was banned 25 years ago, but persists in some agricultural soils.

Illegal insecticides found on the produce was not due to excessive residues, but rather, low levels of chemicals that are attributed to persistent residues in soils or to wind dispersal of pesticides applied legally to nearby fields. But data show widespread illegal use of several insecticides on both U.S. and Mexican spinach.

It is commonly thought that imported foods from Mexico and South America are more contaminated than U.S. grown foods, but 11 of the 12 highest contaminated foods are U.S. grown. Cases where imports are worse include Chilean grapes, Canadian and Mexican carrots, Mexican broccoli and tomatoes, Argentine and Hungarian apple juice, and Brazilian orange juice. U.S. samples are worse than imports for fresh peaches, fresh and frozen winter squash, fresh green beans, apples, and pears.

The results are especially important for children, who are smaller and more sensitive to pesticides than adults. Pesticides could contribute to learning disorders in children. Also, in February the Environmental Protection Agency published, Pesticides and Food: What You and Your Family Need to Know which warns that children are more vulnerable to pesticides, and that farmers may at times such as impending crop failure, use pesticide amounts above safety standards.

* Wash or peel fresh fruits and vegetables. Peeling apples, peaches and pears, in particular, can drastically reduce pesticide exposure from these foods, which have some of the highest Toxicity Indices.
* Try to buy organically grown peaches, apples, grapes, pears, green beans, winter squash and spinach, if they are available where you live.

Reference: Do You Know What You're Eating? An Analysis of U.S. Government Data on Pesticide Residues in Foods, February, 1999 Consumers Union of United States, Inc.

See this document at
This interesting webpage contains information about Bovine Growth Hormone, food contaminants, genetically engineered food, Mad Cow Disease, pesticides, and Codex Alimentarius.

The EPA website provides information on types of pesticides used on various foods.

Article Information
Volume 22 Issue 7

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