Kale Joins the Ranks of the Annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ Pesticide List

Denise Powell wrote . . . . . . . . .

Kale, that popular green of the health conscious, has joined the ignoble list of 12 fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, according to the Environmental Working Group. The last time kale was on the list was in 2009 when it was ranked eighth. Strawberries and spinach took the top two spots again this year, respectively, followed by kale.

Since 2004, the group — a nonprofit, nonpartisan environmental organization — has annually ranked pesticide contamination in popular fruits and vegetables for its Shopper’s Guide, noting those with the highest and lowest concentration of pesticides after being washed or peeled. Pesticides include an array of chemicals that kill unwanted insects, plants, molds and rodents. These chemicals keep pests from destroying produce but also expose humans to residues through their diet. This guide shares the results of the 47 tested fruits and vegetables, so consumers can buy foods with lower amounts of pesticides.

The “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen,” a list of the top 15 tested produce contaminated with the least amounts of pesticide, are based off more than 40,900 fruit and vegetable samples tested by the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture. The types and amounts of pesticides used vary based upon pests and weather, according to EWG.

Analysis of recent data showed that 70% of this produce sold for consumption contained pesticide residues.

How do pesticides impact health?

While pesticides are used to protect growing fruits and vegetables, they can also endanger humans, per the World Health Organization. Human consumption of pesticides has been shown by studies to be associated with cancer risk, fertility and other health concerns. EWG research analyst Carla Burns explained in statement, “The main route of pesticide exposure for most Americans who do not live or work on or near farms is through their diet.” By helping consumers know what foods to be more health-conscious about or to gravitate toward in the grocery store, this guide intends to assist making decisions about the way pesticide regulation impacts health.

Fear shouldn’t be a part of the decision whether to buy foods on the pesticide list, said Teresa Thorne, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit that represents organic and conventional farmers of fruits and vegetables.

Thorne noted a past study in the Journal of Toxicology that was critical of EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, and found that eating organic produce didn’t decrease consumer risk. “That’s largely because residues are so low, if present at all,” she said.

Research on the effects of pesticides on humans is ongoing, and there is not a complete understanding of whether there is a particular amount of pesticides considered to be safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges there are reasons to be concerned about the exposure of developing children to pesticides, especially before birth. Concerns include effects on development and behavior.

What produce has high amounts of pesticides on the list?

In order of pesticide concentration, 2019’s Dirty Dozen list is: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes. Among these, kale and spinach contained 1.1 to 1.8 times more pesticide residue in weight than other batches of produce. This list varies, as does pesticide use in agriculture. “The types and amount of pesticides a grower uses is going to depend upon the pests that the grower is dealing with and the weather. Wetter weather will often increase the use of fungicides,” says Chris Campbell, EWG’s vice president for information technology.

Despite the high pesticide residues of spinach and kale, strawberries have maintained their place at the top of the Dirty Dozen list. Strawberries are popular — Americans eat an estimated 8 pounds per year — but the chemicals used to protect and preserve strawberries raise concern and some have been banned by the European Union. The fruit gained its notorious status because of the United States Department of Agriculture concluding strawberries are most likely, among the tested produce, to retain pesticide residues even after being picked and washed.

What is so surprising about kale being number three on the Dirty Dozen list?

Kale is known for being a source of vitamins and other nutrients, but the vegetable could also be tainted by cancer-causing pesticides. The report’s results showed that 92% of the samples of conventionally grown kale were positive for two or more pesticide residues, and a single sample of kale sometimes contained as many as 18 different pesticide residues. The most common pesticide detected was Dacthal, also known as DCPA, and has been identified as a potential cancer-causing agent. Europe has prohibited its use since 2009.

What produce has low amounts of pesticides?

Produce that are among the top of the list for reducing the exposure of consumers to pesticides include avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas and onions. In contrast to the Dirty Dozen, there was no detection of pesticide residues in 70% of these foods. Less than 1% of avocados and sweet corn tested positive for pesticides and were considered the cleanest of the list.

How can you avoid pesticides?

The recommendations from the Environmental Working Group are to buy and eat organic produce, especially fruits and vegetables found on the Dirty Dozen list. However, if your budget does not allow you to eat organic, fruits and vegetables are better than none.

“The science shows that what people need to know is to eat more fruits and vegetables every day, conventional or organic, choose either. No list needed,” said Thorne of the Alliance for Food and Farming.

Source: CNN

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U.S. Appeals Court Orders EPA to Ban Chlorpyrifos, a Pesticide Known to Harm Children

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies’ brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruit, apples and other crops. The attorneys general for several states joined the case against EPA, including California, New York and Massachusetts.

In a split decision, the court said Thursday that Pruitt, a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals, violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.

“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the court’s opinion.

Michael Abboud, spokesman for acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, said the agency was reviewing the decision, but it had been unable to “fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available, transparent science.”

EPA could potentially appeal to the Supreme Court since one member of the three-judge panel dissented from the majority ruling.

Environmental groups and public health advocates celebrated the court’s action as a major success.

“Some things are too sacred to play politics with, and our kids top the list,” said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The court has made it clear that children’s health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it’s harming their brains or poisoning communities.”

The attorneys general of California and New York also claimed victory.

“This is one more example of how then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt skirted the law and endangered the health of our children — in this case, all because he refused to curb pesticide levels found in food,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California said in a statement.

Chlorpyrifos was created by Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s. It remains among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with the chemical giant selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year through its subsidiary Dow AgroSciences.

Gregg Schmidt, a spokesman for Dow, said chlorpyrifos is a critical pest management tool used in countries around the world.

“We will continue to support the growers who need this important product,” Schmidt said.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany before World War II.

As a result of its wide use as a pesticide over the past four decades, traces of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of the pesticide.

Under pressure from federal regulators, Dow voluntarily withdrew chlorpyrifos for use as a home insecticide in 2000. EPA also placed “no-spray” buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide’s use on food. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded: “There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.”

Federal law requires EPA to ensure that pesticides used on food in the United States are safe for human consumption — especially children, who are typically far more sensitive to the negative effects of poisons.

Shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump in 2017, Pruitt announced he was revering the Obama administration effort to ban chlorpyrifos, adopting Dow’s position that the science showing chlorpyrifos is harmful was inconclusive and flawed.

The Associated Press reported in June 2017 that Pruitt announced his agency’s reversal on chlorpyrifos just 20 days after his official schedule showed a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. At the time, Liveris headed a White House manufacturing working group, and his company had written a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities.

Following AP’s report, then-EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said that March 9, 2017, meeting on Pruitt’s schedule never happened. Bowman said the two men had instead shared only a “brief introduction in passing” while attending the same industry conference at a Houston hotel and that they never discussed chlorpyrifos.

However, internal EPA emails released earlier this year following a public records lawsuit filed by The Sierra Club suggest the two men shared more than a quick handshake.

Little more than a week after the conference and before Pruitt announced his decision, the EPA chief’s scheduler reached out to Liveris’ executive assistant to schedule a follow-up meeting.

“Hope this email finds you well!” wrote Sydney Hupp, Pruitt’s assistant, on March 20, 2017. “I am reaching out today about setting up a meeting to continue the discussion between Dow Chemical and Administrator Scott Pruitt. My apologies for the delay in getting this email into you — it has been a crazy time over here!”

Subsequent emails show Hupp and Liveris’ office discussing several potential dates that the Dow CEO might come to Pruitt’s office at EPA headquarters, but it is not clear from the documents whether the two men ever linked up.

Liveris announced his retirement from Dow in March of this year.

Pruitt resigned July 6 amid more than a dozen ethics investigations focused on such issues as outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease for a Capitol Hill condo linked to an energy lobbyist.

Bowman, who left EPA in May to work for GOP Sen. Joni Ernest of Iowa, declined to comment on her earlier characterization of the March 2017 interaction between Pruitt and Liveris or what “discussion” the internal email was referring to.

“I don’t work for EPA anymore,” Bowman said.

Current EPA spokesman James Hewitt said, “We stand by our statement from last year.”

Source : Time

U.S. Appeals Court Orders EPA to Ban Pesticide Said to Harm Children

Jonathan Stempel wrote . . . . . . . . .

A divided federal appeals court on Thursday ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban a widely-used pesticide that critics say can endanger children and farmers.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle overturned former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s March 2017 denial of a petition by environmental groups to halt the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“This shows that the EPA can’t just ignore the science that this pesticide damages children’s brains,” Marisa Ordonia, a lawyer for Earthjustice, which represented the petitioners, said in an interview. “The Trump administration has to follow the law, as does everyone else.”

Pruitt’s ruling, one of many by the administration to reduce federal regulatory oversight, had reversed a 2015 Obama administration recommendation to extend to food a 2000 ban on chlorpyrifos that covered most household settings.

Writing for the Seattle-based appeals court, Judge Jed Rakoff directed the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days, saying the agency failed to counteract “scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children.”

Rakoff also faulted the EPA for going against its own 2016 risk assessment for the pesticide, “largely ignoring” and then “temporizing” in its response to the petition, and wrongly declaring that the court had no business deciding the matter.

“If Congress’s statutory mandates are to mean anything, the time has come to put a stop to this patent evasion,” wrote Rakoff, who normally sits on the federal district court in Manhattan.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman, said that office is reviewing the decision.

Pruitt’s order was opposed by groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the United Farm Workers, and the attorneys general of New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

“Today’s decision is a huge win for our children’s health,” New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said in a statement.

Circuit Judge Ferdinand Fernandez dissented from Thursday’s decision, saying the court lacked jurisdiction, though its discussion of the petition’s merits had “some persuasive value.”

In issuing his order, Pruitt had said the EPA needed to provide “regulatory certainty” to the thousands of American farms that use chlorpyrifos, while protecting people’s health and the environment.

“By reversing the previous administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision making – rather than predetermined results,” Pruitt had said.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said on Thursday that “data underlying the court’s assumptions remains inaccessible and has hindered the agency’s ongoing process to fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available transparent science.”

Source: Reuters

Indigo’s Scientists Want to Replace Pesticides With Bacteria

Elizabeth G Dunn wrote . . . . . . .

Fresh snow coats the sidewalks outside Indigo Ag Inc.’s Boston offices, but inside the temperature is calibrated to mimic spring in the Midwest. Hundreds of almost identical soy seedlings sit beneath high-intensity arc lamps, basking in the artificially sunny 60F weather.

The plants aren’t destined to stay identical for long. “We haven’t imposed the stress yet,” says Geoffrey von Maltzahn, the company’s lanky 37-year-old co-founder. The MIT-trained microbiologist gestures toward photos showing what happens when you apply Indigo’s signature product—a coating of carefully chosen microbes—to some seeds but not others before planting, then dial back the water supply: One shows a tall, flourishing stalk; the other, what looks like a tangle of shriveled leaves.

In humans, a healthy microbiome—the universe of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that lives inside all of us—is increasingly recognized as critical to overall health. The same is true of the plant world, and Indigo is among the dozen or so agricultural technology startups trying to take advantage of the growing scientific consensus. Their work is enabled by advances in machine learning and a steep reduction in the cost of genetic sequencing, used by companies to determine which microbes are present. Approaches vary: AgBiome LLC, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is studying how microbes can help control sweet potato weevils in Africa, while Ginkgo Bioworks Inc. announced a $100 million joint venture with Bayer AG to explore how microbes can encourage plants to produce their own nitrogen.

Indigo is the best-funded of the bunch, having raised more than $400 million. To develop its microbial cocktails, Indigo agronomists comb through normal fields in dry conditions to see which plants seem healthier than average. They take samples of the thriving plants and “fingerprint” their micro­biomes using genetic sequencing; once they’ve done this with thousands of samples, they use statistical methods to pick out which microbes occur most often in the healthiest plants. These proceed to testing, then large-scale field trials.

The company’s first commercial products are focused on improving drought tolerance, one of the most difficult traits to address through genetic modification. “It’s like a symphony,” founder von Maltzahn says of a plant’s reaction to water stress, “and GMOs are like slamming down on one note on one instrument.” Drought conditions are likely to become a greater threat to agriculture because of global warming. Indigo is also investing heavily in research and development efforts to see how microbes influence factors such as nitrogen use and pest resistance, aiming to reduce or even eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers as well as genetically modified seeds. With the general public rejecting chemical treatments and GMOs in favor of “natural” foods, Indigo is counting on a potentially multibillion-­dollar market. So far, its microbe coatings have boosted cotton yields by an average of 14 percent in full-scale commercial trials in Texas and wheat yields by as much as 15 percent in Kansas.

Indigo Chief Executive Officer David Perry doesn’t want to just market a suite of seed treatments, however. He wants to reshape the structure of the agriculture industry completely, competing not only with chemical companies such as Monsanto and Dow Chemical, but also with agricultural distributors like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. Perry, a biochemist who grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas, founded two pharma-related companies, a drugmaker he eventually sold for multiple billions of dollars and an online marketplace for research supplies that went public in 1999. After joining Indigo in 2015, Perry quickly zeroed in on a fundamental business challenge: Most farmers have no choice but to sell their harvest at commodity prices. Without the opportunity to earn more for using environmentally sustainable methods, they have little incentive to alter their ways.

For farmers to adopt Indigo technology, they’d need a buyer willing to pay a premium for non-GMO, pesticide-free products. So, Perry reasoned, Indigo would facilitate the sale. Today the company contracts upfront with hundreds of farmers to buy their entire harvest of, say, Indigo Wheat, at a hefty premium. “Now you’re growing a value-added product, and that starts to go directly to farm profitability,” he says. Indigo then sells the wheat to end users such as breweries, flour mills, and food companies, which have become more interested in transparency and control when it comes to the origin of their grains. Perry says he’s betting on a long-term shift away from commodity agriculture and toward specialty markets, as the coffee and cocoa industries are seeing.

While the science behind microbiome treatments is promising, Indigo has a long road ahead. Its success depends on proving that microbes can meaningfully influence more than just drought tolerance while at the same time scaling up to the kind of sprawling, complex operation that can buy and sell millions of bushels of grain from tens of thousands of farms.

Michael Dean, chief investment officer for the venture capital investment platform AgFunder Inc., sees Indigo’s technologies as potentially disruptive but suggests that one of the biggest challenges the company will face is persuading farmers to turn their back on comfortable relationships with Big Ag. “Farmers have tended to buy seed from the guy their dad bought from, and sold it to the same grain elevator,” Dean says. “This is going to make waves, and not everyone will be happy about it.”

Bottom Line – Leveraging the plant microbiome to improve crop yields is more and more promising, but any upstarts will have a hard time getting between farmers and Monsanto.

Source: Bloomberg

A Better Way to Wash Pesticides off Apples

Polishing an apple with your shirt might remove some dust and dirt, but getting rid of pesticide residues could take a little more work. Researchers now report in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, that washing apples with a common household product — baking soda — could do the trick for residues on the surfaces of the fruit.

The use of pesticides can help increase crop yield, but concerns over their potential effects on human health have been raised over the years. Washing could be one effective strategy to clean pesticides off produce, and it is standard practice in the food industry. But some of the plant-protecting compounds that get absorbed by fruits and vegetables might not be easily removed using current cleaning methods. Lili He and colleagues wanted to find out which washing method can most effectively reduce pesticides.

The researchers applied two common pesticides — the fungicide thiabendazole, which past research has shown can penetrate apple peels, and the insecticide phosmet — to organic Gala apples. They then washed these apples with three different liquids: tap water, a 1 percent baking soda/water solution, and a U.S.-EPA-approved commercial bleach solution often used on produce. The baking soda solution was the most effective at reducing pesticides. After 12 and 15 minutes, 80 percent of the thiabendazole was removed, and 96 percent of the phosmet was removed, respectively. The different percentages are likely due to thiabendezole’s greater absorption into the apple. Mapping images showed that thiabendazole had penetrated up to 80 micrometers deep into the apples; phosmet was detected at a depth of only 20 micrometers. Washing the produce with either plain tap water or the bleach solution for two minutes, per the industry standard, were far less effective.

Source: American Chemical Society