Kale has higher pesticide residues than nearly all other produce found on supermarket shelves, according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Dirty Dozen™.
EWG recently released the Dirty Dozen as part of its annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, which analyzes Department of Agriculture test data to identify which fruits and vegetables are most and least contaminated with pesticide residues. The Shopper’s Guide also includes the Clean Fifteen, a list of the fruits and vegetables with the lowest amount of residues.
On this year’s Dirty Dozen, kale ranks third, after strawberries and spinach.
In USDA’s most recent round of tests, more than 92 percent of conventionally grown kale samples had at least two or more pesticide residues. Some samples contained residues from as many as 18 different pesticides. Even as kale’s popularity has soared over the past decade, it hasn’t been included in USDA’s regular produce tests. Kale ranked eighth on the 2009 Dirty Dozen, the last year for which there was testing data.
In the latest tests, almost 60 percent of the kale samples tested positive for DCPA, or Dacthal, which the Environmental Protection Agency has long classified as a possible human carcinogen. The pesticide has been prohibited for use on crops in the European Union since 2009.
Overall, nearly 70 percent of the conventionally grown produce sold in the U.S. comes with pesticide residues, EWG’s analysis found.
Since 2012, the American Academy of Pediatricians Council on Environmental Health has emphasized that children’s exposure to pesticides should be as limited as possible, because pesticide exposure during pregnancy and early childhood increases the risk of brain tumors, leukemia, neurodevelopmental defects and other adverse birth outcomes.
USDA’s tests found a total of 225 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on popular fruits and vegetables Americans eat every day. Before testing, all produce was thoroughly washed and peeled, just as consumers would prepare food at home, showing that simple washing does not remove all pesticides.
EWG recommends that whenever possible, consumers purchase organic versions of produce on the Dirty Dozen list. When organic versions are unavailable or not affordable, EWG advises consumers to continue eating fresh produce, even if conventionally grown.
Other Key Findings From EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
- More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
- Kale and spinach samples had, on average, 10 to 80 percent more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.
- Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.
- More than 70 percent of fruit and vegetable samples on the Clean Fifteen list had no pesticide residues.
- Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on Clean Fifteen vegetables. Only 6 percent of Clean Fifteen fruit and vegetable samples had two or more pesticides.
- As in the past, this year EWG has expanded the Dirty Dozen list to highlight hot peppers, which do not meet our traditional ranking criteria but were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.
About EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
The guide, released every year since 2004, ranks the pesticide contamination of 47 popular fruits and vegetables. It is based on results of more than 40,900 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.