Each year, the Environmental Working Group issues a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce that includes the Dirty Dozen – the twelve fruits and vegetables that have the highest pesticide load. It’s a guide to help consumers know where to best spend their money on organics. The 2014 guide comes out next week, and I’ll have the information about it here on the blog. EWG sent me some advance information about something they discovered while preparing this year’s guide.

The group found that “most conventionally-grown apples in the United States are not allowed for sale in the EU due to the presence of a chemical (diphenylamine, known as DPA) registered as a pesticide by the U.S. DPA has been banned for use on apples grown in Europe over health concerns.”

How is DPA used? It’s a chemical that is sprayed on to non-organic apples to help prevent “storage scald,” blackening or browning of fruit skin during long months of cold storage. Although it’s registered as a pesticide, it doesn’t kill insects, weeds or fungal growth. About 80 percent of apples tested had DPA on them. Because it’s sprayed on after harvest, it’s usually found in greater concentrations than other pesticides that are used for apples.

“While it is not yet clear that DPA is risky to public health, European Commission officials asked questions that the chemicals’ makers could not answer,” said EWG senior scientist Sonya Lunder. “The EC officials banned outright any further use of DPA on the apples cultivated in the European Union until they are confident it is safe. Europe’s action should cause American policymakers to take a new look at this chemical.”

EWG has written a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urging them to stop the use of DPA on conventionally-grown American apples and telling them that the American public deserves the same level of protection as Europeans from pesticide risks.

Not having seen the 2014 Shopper’s Guide yet, I can’t say where apples fall on the Dirty Dozen list this year, For the past three years, they’ve been in the number one spot. It’s been enough to convince me to buy organic apples from the grocery store or apples from a farmer I can talk to at a farmers market who can tell me how the apples are grown. This information about DPA is one more reason to continue to buy apples that aren’t grown the conventional way.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The most common pesticide found on U.S. apples is banned in the EU
The chemical’s makers can’t guarantee Diphenylamine's safety, so the EU doesn't allow its use. Here in the U.S. it’s found on 80 percent of conventional apples.