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Wake-up kale: Group says trendy green teeming with pesticides

Kale, which was last tested by the USDA in 2009, now ranks third on the list of most contaminated produce items — behind only strawberries and spinach, according to the environmental group. (iStock/Getty Images Plus)

It’s one of the trendiest greens on supermarket shelves and turns up in salads pasta dishes and even smoothies. But a new report from the Environmental Working Group finds the leafy green kale contains more pesticide residue than most other kinds of produce.

The environmental group’s “Dirty Dozen” report uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify fresh fruits and vegetables that are the most and least contaminated with pesticide residue.

Kale, which was last tested by the USDA in 2009, now ranks third on the list of most contaminated produce items — behind only strawberries and spinach.

The group’s analysis found 92 percent of conventionally grown kale samples had residue from at least two or more pesticides. Some samples contained far more — as many as 18 different pesticides.

“We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist with the group, in a statement.

“Fruits and vegetables are an important part of everyone’s diet, and when it comes to some conventionally grown produce items, such as kale, choosing organic may be a better option.”

About 60 percent of kale samples tested positive for a pesticide known as DCPA or Dacthal, the group said. The pesticide has been banned in the European Union since 2009, and the Environmental Protection Agency classifies the substance as a possible human carcinogen.

Other types of produce found to be high in pesticide residue were nectarines, apples, grapes and peaches. The group’s “Clean 15” list tallies up produce items with the lowest amounts of pesticide residue, which includes avocados, sweet corn and pineapples. (See both lists below)

Overall, nearly 70 percent of conventionally grown produce sold in the U.S. has pesticide residues, according to the report. There are health risks to consuming vegetables with the residues — especially for pregnant women and children. The group recommends shoppers should purchase organic versions of produce known to be high in pesticide residues when they can.

But they also stress that eating fresh produce even if conventionally grown is beneficial.

“The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” said Carla Burns, a research analyst with the environmental group.

The 12 produce items most contaminated by pesticide residue:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The 15 produce items least contaminated by pesticide residue:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Sweet peas (frozen)
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbage
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

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