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

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 has vaulted the fruit back on EWG’s Dirty Dozen™ list of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticide residues. Pears now rank sixth on the list, up from 22nd previously.

In 2015, USDA’s tests of 668 samples of non-organic pears found:

  • The amount of pesticide residues on pears more than doubled since 2010, from 0.6 parts per million to 1.3 parts per million.
  • More than half of the pears tested had residues of five or more pesticides, compared to just 3 percent in 2010.
  • Overall, more than 20 pesticides were found on pear samples, up from nine pesticides in 2010.

The new 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.

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

The four 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 during storage. The average amount of pesticides found on pears was greater than that on other tree fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines, apples and cherries, which are all on the Dirty Dozen list.

Among the pesticides detected on conventionally grown pears in 2015 were:

  • Carbendazim, found on more than one-fourth of samples, a chemical that is toxic to the male reproductive system and a suspected hormone disruptor.
  • Diphenylamine, found on about one in eight samples. This chemical 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 12 samples, respectively.

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

EWG recently 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. 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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