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BANNED PESTICIDE
FOUND ON APPLES

Despite a ban by the federal government on an apple pesticide, recent tests of State of Washington apples show dangerous levels of the bug killer and other agriculture chemicals on the fruit.

Tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group and conducted by an independent laboratory indicate that two in 25 apples have pesticide levels so hazardous that a two year-old eating half an apple or less would exceed the government’s daily safe exposure level. A total of eight pesticides were found, including one, endosulfan, that has been recommended for a ban by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Federal regulators are expected to take action in the next month to protect children from a third pesticide, chlorpyrifos (a.k.a. Dursban) that was also found on Washington apples.

Apples, the number one fruit consumed by children, are a focus of the nation’s current pesticide control efforts stemming from the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act. The Act requires EPA to ensure that all pesticides on food and in the environment are safe for infants and children. Washington state accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s apple supply and a significant share of the nation’s $300 billion apple export market — mostly to Canada, Mexico and Pacific Rim nations.

EWG’s results closely track those found by the US Department of Agriculture’s most recent testing of apples, conducted in 1996. USDA has not tested any apples since that time, leaving consumers completely in the dark about residues in this important children’s food. Even the results of the 1996 testing were not released until 1998. Similarly, results from apple samples collected by the USDA this fall and winter will not be released until 2001. This delay undermines any value this information could have to consumers.

In response, EWG is launching a "Test and Tell" initiative, calling on major supermarket chains to test apples and other important children’s foods for pesticides, and to make the results available to their consumers in a timely fashion. As a part of its Test and Tell program, EWG will conduct routine tests for pesticides in apples and other foods and publish the results on its award winning web site, along with plain-language descriptions of the pesticides’ health effects. In a second phase of tests now underway, EWG will examine apples, apple juice and other children’s foods.

"If consumers knew which foods were higher in pesticides, they could shop to reduce their exposure. But consumers can’t get useful information from the government, grocery stores, the apple industry — and certainly not the pesticide industry," said EWG Analyst and report author Todd Hettenbach. "Someone needs to give consumers unbiased information. We hope that supermarkets will take the lead, but until then EWG will be testing foods for pesticides and telling consumers what we find."

Methyl parathion, one of the organophosphate class of pesticides, was banned from apples by the EPA last summer, which did little to affect residues of that chemical on fruit that was on trees when the announcement was made. Consumers are still eating the last of that crop, and will do so until the 2000 crop is available on store shelves next fall.

EWG found the bug killer at unsafe levels in two of 25 bags of Washington state apples purchased at Seattle area stores – slightly less than the rate the government found in its most recent tests of the 1996 apple crop. One bag of apples went over EPA’s safety limit by a factor of 10.

EWG called on major grocery stores chains to adopt a "test-and-tell" policy by which produce would be tested for pesticide residues and provide results to shoppers.

The cost will be minimal to stores, said Hettenbach, if EWG’s experience is any indication.

"If a small nonprofit public interest group such as ours can spend tens of thousands of dollars each year on food testing, imagine what Safeway or Kroger could accomplish," he said.

Written by: Environmental Working Group


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