Pears Join the Dirty Dozen™ -- Now With an Extra Helping of Pesticides

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 2019

Pesticides on conventionally grown pears have increased dramatically in recent years, according to the latest tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The sharp rise vaulted the fruit onto EWG’s 2016 Dirty Dozen™ list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticide residues. This year pears rank ninth on the list.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the USDA’s tests of 678 samples of conventional pears found:

  • The amount of pesticide residues on pears more than doubled since 2010, from 0.6 parts per million to 1.4 parts per million.
  • Forty-eight percent of the pears tested had residues of five or more pesticides, compared to just 3 percent in 2010.
  • Overall, 49 pesticides were found on pear samples, up from nine in 2010.

All pear samples were thoroughly washed before testing. The majority of pears tested were grow in the U.S., not imported.

The pesticides detected on pears include fungicides, applied to control fungus and mold, as well as insecticides. This is troubling because there is very little research on the health effects of ingesting multiple pesticides.

The pesticides detected in the highest concentrations were all fungicides, which can be applied late in the growing season, or even after pears are harvested, to keep them from spoiling in storage. The average amount of pesticides found on pears was greater than that on other tree fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines, apples and cherries, all of which are also on the Dirty Dozen™ list.

Among the pesticides detected on conventionally grown pears in 2016 were:

  • Carbendazim, found on more than one-fourth of samples, is toxic to the male reproductive system and a suspected hormone disruptor.
  • Diphenylamine, found on about one in 10 samples. It is banned in Europe because of concerns that it could form cancer-causing nitrosamines during storage or when pears are cooked.
  • The bee-killing insecticides acetamiprid and imidacloprid, found on about one in seven and one in 10 samples, respectively.

But not all trends for pesticide use on pears are negative. Over the past two decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has restricted the use of highly toxic organophosphate and carbamate pesticides. EWG detected three highly toxic insecticides in baby food in 1995, and the USDA found two of these – azinphos-methyl and formetanate hydrochloride – on fresh pear samples in 2009.

EWG reviewed changes in pesticide residues detected in baby food, including pear purees. As we expected, the highly toxic insecticides we found in 1995 are no longer present on fresh or pureed pears. But many baby food purees, including more than one-third of pear baby foods, still have too many pesticide residues to be sold in Europe. European Union laws prohibit finished food products from having more than 10 parts per billion of any pesticide.

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