Here is the complete text of the article. Very interesting. JC
CHICAGO TRIBUNE WATCHDOG AUG. 12, 2009
Pesticides in your peaches: Tribune and USDA studies find pesticides,
some in excess of EPA rules, in the fragrant fruit
Latest government report shows more than 50 pesticides on the fruit.
How can you avoid the risks?
As we munch into the fragrant core of peach season, shoppers face an
array of choices for the same fuzzy fruit but little guidance on which
type to pick. Expensive organic? Pricey farmers market? Cheap peaches
from the grocery store?
Cost is certainly important. But there are essential numbers that go
beyond the price tag of a peach, or any other item from the produce
Which contain the highest levels of pesticides?
Preliminary 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture tests obtained by the
Chicago Tribune show that more than 50 pesticide compounds showed up on
domestic and imported peaches headed for U.S. stores. Five of the
compounds exceeded the limits set by the Environmental Protection
Agency, and six of the pesticide compounds present are not approved for
use on peaches in the United States.
These are the types of findings that have landed peaches on one
environmental group's "Dirty Dozen" list -- 12 fruits and vegetables
that retain the highest levels of pesticide residues -- and give many
consumers pause as they shop grocery aisles. It seems that peaches'
delicate constitutions, fuzzy skins and susceptibility to mold and
pests cause them to both need and retain pesticides at impressive
Although most pesticides in peaches were found at levels well below EPA
tolerances, some scientists and activists remain concerned about even
low-level exposure, especially to pregnant women and children. They
point to studies, for example, that show cognitive impairment in rats
after dietary exposure to chlorpyfiros, a pesticide that showed up in
17 percent of conventional peaches tested by the USDA.
For assurance, some shoppers turn to farmers markets, which don't
guarantee reduced pesticide use but do allow shoppers to discuss
pesticide practices with the farmer. Organic, meanwhile, does come with
the expectation that the fruit will be free of synthetic pesticides.
Yet no government agency ever tested that promise until this year --
and so far those tests have been limited to lettuce, with no published
To get some hard facts and new insights, the Tribune paid for lab tests
on California organic peaches bought here and local farmers market
peaches from Illinois and Michigan.
The newspaper sent these samples to the same federal lab where the USDA
does its pesticide testing and found promising results. Of the 50
compounds the Tribune had tested for, one showed up on the organic
peaches and three or fewer pesticides were detected on the Michigan and
"Our growers [in southwest Michigan] pride themselves on being very
careful," said William Shane, district fruit educator for Michigan
State University, when he learned how Michigan peaches fared in the
test. "We also tend to have smaller operations and it's easier to keep
track of pesticide use."
The better results in the Tribune's small sample may also be
attributable to the fact that the wider 2008 USDA conventional tests
included peaches imported from Chile.
Chilean peaches have, in the past, shown a higher incidence of certain
pesticides than U.S. peaches. The conventional samples, taken from more
than 700 sites, also included peaches from areas like Georgia and South
Carolina where a broader range of pesticides are often needed to
control pests and fungus.
More surprising, however, was the presence of the unapproved pesticide
fludioxonil on the organic peaches from California. According to Shane,
the pesticide is often used on conventional peaches postharvest to slow
rot and extend shelf life.
University of Illinois entomologist and extension specialist Rick
Weinzierl suggested that the unapproved pesticide could have come from
drift or cross-contamination at processing facilities. "But there is
always the chance that a farmer is not doing what he is saying," he
Rayne Pegg of the USDA's agriculture marketing service confirmed that
fludioxonil is not an approved compound for organic farming but added,
"as long as the concentrations don't exceed 5 percent of EPA
tolerances, it can be sold as organic." In fact, the USDA allows such
levels of any legal pesticide to be present on organic produce. In the
wake of recent allegations about slipping standards in the USDA's
National Organic Program, Congress has widened a probe into the NOP and
recently USDA announced an independent audit of the program. The
organic world was further rocked last month by a controversial British
review of nutrient studies that challenged the nutritional benefits of
Supporters of organic foods complained that many important studies were
left out of the review, and the debate on nutrition ignores the
question of pesticide residue.
Although the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act sets pesticide tolerances
at levels that offer "a reasonable certainty that no harm will result
from aggregate exposure to the chemical residue," some scientists worry
about exposure among children and pregnant women.
Alex Lu, who teaches environmental exposure biology at Harvard, has
studied a particularly troubling class of pesticide called
organophosphates, or OPs, which showed up consistently in the systems
of Seattle-area children ages 3 to 11 who ate non-organic diets. When
the children switched to an organic diet for five days, these pesticide
levels became nearly undetectable, the study found.
The professor acknowledged the importance of fresh produce in a young
diet but is concerned that conventional produce consumption translates
too easily into the presence of OPs in these developing systems. He
advises against giving children conventionally farmed produce from any
items on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen," which is
culled from FDA and USDA test results. Other produce on that list are
strawberries, apples, nectarines, cherries, lettuce, bell peppers,
celery, pears, kale, imported grapes and carrots.
Lu is even more concerned about the dietary habits of pregnant women.
"Don't eat conventional peaches while you are pregnant," he said. "It's
a critical time. Spend a little bit more money to buy organic just to
Dr. Catherine Karr, who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics
Environmental Health committee, stopped short of advising against
conventional peaches for children altogether.
"You want to maximize the healthfulness of children's diets by making
sure they get plenty of fruits and vegetables," she said. "But ... you
want to minimize their exposure to pesticides, and we know that the
best way to do that is by giving them as much organic produce as
According to the USDA, when its Pesticide Data Program discovers the
use of unapproved pesticides or pesticide residues that exceed federal
tolerances, it reports them to the FDA and EPA. Because of the length
of the complicated screening and reporting process, these violation
reports are not used for enforcement but rather to highlight potential
"Consumers should feel confident that we collect this data and provide
it to the proper regulatory agencies for enforcement," said USDA
spokesman Justin DeJong.
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune
On Aug 12, 2009, at 5:22 AM, Bill Shoemaker wrote:
The following article on pesticide residues in peaches was published
today in the Chicago Tribune. Shows that the issue remains one of
public interest, and controversy.
William H Shoemaker, UI-NRES
Sr Research Specialist, Food Crops
St Charles Horticulture Research Center
535 Randall Road St Charles, IL 60174
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