Kale Pesticide Levels Much Higher Than Most People Think

Muriel Colon
March 24, 2019

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) used data from the Department of Agriculture to determine that spinach, strawberries, and kale are among the produce with the most pesticide residue found.

Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The EWG's analysis suggests that an astonishing 92 percent of kale samples had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could contain up to 18 different residues.

The last time kale was included in the USDA's produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list.

In the latest tests, nearly 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 "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 lowest levels of pesticides were found on sweet corn, pineapples, and avocados. Not only does kale rank third in the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) annual report, but it actually has higher pesticide residues than almost all other produce found on supermarket shelves. (You know which group we're talking about - you're probably getting that icky feeling all over just thinking about them.) That list keeps getting perpetuated despite the fact that peer-reviewed studies show it's recommendations are not scientifically supportable, while other studies show it may negatively impact consumers since it discourages purchasing of any produce - organic or conventional.


Kale might be the trendy vegetable these days, but an annual study by a nonprofit environmental group warns it might be less healthy than you think. Samples of both kale and spinach had about 10 to 80 percent more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

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.

Kale is known for being a source of vitamins and other nutrients, but the vegetable could also be tainted by cancer-causing pesticides. Dacthal has been prohibited for use on crops in the European Union since 2009.

The organization advises people to eat organic produce. The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges there are reasons to be concerned about the exposure of developing children to pesticides, especially before birth.

Naidenko said the produce samples were tested for pesticides after they were cleaned. Recognizing this isn't always an option for people, the report acknowledges that eating any fresh fruit or vegetable - organic or not - is beneficial to one's health.

As EWG research analyst Carla Burns put it: "The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure".

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