Environmental Working Group
|A buncha tree-huggers|
|Save the rainforests!|
|Watch that carbon footprint!|
Environmental Working Group, or EWG for short, is an American environmental organization, its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The organization focuses on six issues: consumer products, energy, farming, food, water, and toxics. Their stated mission is "to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment." When it comes to contamination standards, however, their standards to what is safe does not adhere to any accepted scientific practices.[note 1] They also constantly demonstrate no understanding of the International Agency for Research on Cancer's substance classifications. Despite this, their findings are frequently shared throughout mainstream media, such as their highly publicized Dirty Dozen.
The EWG has the following positions:
- Opposes fracking and oil drilling.
- Opposes biofuels, especially corn ethanol, due to biofuel plantations encroaching on wilderness.
- Opposes uranium mining near national parks; does not seem to oppose nuclear power, or such opposition is very low on the priority list.
- Opposes excessive farm subsidies.
- Promotes organic food while opposing genetically modified food.
- Opposes "artificial" food dyes and relies on the discredited association between food dyes and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Dirty Dozen list
Every year, EWG publishes a list of twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest level of pesticide residue, called the "Dirty Dozen". The list is based on data from the Pesticide Program Residue Monitoring of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which conducts random screening tests of these products every year. The list is always accompanied by recommendations to buy organic food instead, to avoid the supposed dangers.
The methodology by which the Dirty Dozen list is compiled is completely unscientific. For each investigated fruit or vegetable, six indicators of contamination are obtained:
- Percentage of samples with detectable residues.
- Percentage of samples with two or more pesticides detected.
- Average number of pesticides found on a single sample.
- Average amount of all pesticides found.
- Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample.
- Total number of pesticides found.
None of those indicators reflect possible pesticide intake. There is also no comparison of possible intake with toxicological data on pesticides, such as Acceptable Daily Intake values or the reference dose. Estimates of exposure to pesticides based on the same data are hundreds of times lower than the reference dose, which in turn is a hundred times lower than the dose at which any effects are observable in animal studies. In other words, even the "worst" fruits and vegetables on the list are completely safe to eat. Moreover, organic produce is not in fact completely free from pesticides either, and there is less data on it.
Superbugs in meat
In April 2013, EWG issued an alarmist press release which claimed that antibiotic resistant bacteria are widespread in meat sold in supermarkets. The claim was based on a misinterpretation of data released by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, run by the FDA. In reality, antibiotic resistance did increase in some cases, but all four important pathogenic bacteria remain susceptible to the drugs used to treat them.
Cell phone radiation scaremongering
EWG disseminates information intended to frighten the users of cell phones. This is partially based on the World Health Organization's reclassification of cell phone radiation as a "possible human carcinogen". However, this does not mean that evidence of carcinogenicity has been found, only that this risk cannot be ruled out yet. Overall, the evidence indicates that a link between mobile phone use and cancer is unlikely, and the few associations found in studies on humans to data are due to chance.
Glyphosate in cereal
On the heels of the California August 2018 lawsuit, where Monsanto-Bayer had to pay $289 million to a man who claimed that glyphosate gave him cancer[note 2], the Environmental Working Group has also tried to scare consumers about glyphosate in cereal. The title of the article is ominously titled "Weed Killer in $289 Million Cancer Verdict", citing the court case. This is followed by irresponsible reporting on part by at least the CBS and TIME with their scare headlines, repetition of the loaded phrase "weed-killer", citing no scientific authorities, and promoting ignorance of IARC classifications. Additionally, court cases are not always accepted by the scientific community as evidence. The EWG is no different in their article, as their report is not published in any credible journal, if any journal. They even go far to promote a conspiracy that "Monsanto knew for decades of the product’s hazards and not only failed to warn customers, but schemed to publicly discredit the evidence." Their own article even links to a thorough explanation of the 2A classification.
Apparently, the EWG found that 43 of 45 of conventional cereal has glyphosate higher than their own standards of what's acceptable for glyphosate concentrations, while every single organically grown has either no glyphosate or glyphosate below their levels. This is again, similar to the above where they conclude that consumers should go organic. Their standards of contamination levels are already problematic (see above), as their own standards are California's standards for contaminants from drinking water (which is stricter than the EPA's), but "edited" by 10 times the safety factor to accommodate children. They demonstrate no understanding of dose makes the poison, as one of their justifications for their lower dose is that "it adds up", just like lead, maybe. Their conclusion that a maximum dose can be reached through a single 60-gram serving of food with a glyphosate level of 160 parts per billion, or ppb, which most samples of conventional oat products exceeded, is incorrect and the dose actually falls well below 1/100th the amount of glyphosate California sets for adults and 1/200th for the EPA's standards.
The go on to state that the standards set by the states and federal government aren't reliable. Note that the California state scientists (Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment) in the quote ultimately rely on the IARC classification per Proposition 65, so not really "cancer findings" by scientists by any stretch.
But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. Federal government standards for pesticides in food are often outdated, not based on the best and most current science. The EPA’s standards for pesticides and other chemicals are also heavily influenced by lobbying from industry.
Studies regularly find that the legal limits on contaminants in food, air, drinking water and consumer products fall short of fully protecting public health, particularly for children and other people more sensitive to the effects of toxic chemicals. The EPA’s legal limit for glyphosate on oats, 30 parts per million, was set in 2008, well before the cancer findings of the IARC and California state scientists.
But their standards, based on the same limits they don't trust and altered for grossly nonscientific reasons, are perfectly fine, apparently.
- One of their methods include taking the strictest standards (even stricter than federal standards), decreasing it even more with no scientific justification whatsoever ("for the children", "the substances will accumulate over time", and "there is no acceptable minimum amount" are not science-based justifications) and then concluding that the samples they tested are tainted.
- This is despite the little evidence that it does, as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has no established cause.
- Genetic Literacy Project. Environmental Working Group: Known for scare campaigns, EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues (July 17, 2018). Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- EWG. (April 19, 2021) "Calif. health agency finds synthetic food dyes associated with ADHD, neurobehavioral problems in kids". Accessed May 17, 2021.
- U.S. FDA: Residue Monitoring Reports
- C. K. Winter, J. M. Katz, Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels Journal of Toxicology 2011, 589674
- Steve Savage: How Wrong Is The Latest "Dirty Dozen" List?
- FDA Cautions in Interpretation of Antimicrobial Resistance Data
- EWG: Cell Phones
- Cancer Research UK: Mobile Phones and Cancer
- Cancer, Juries, and Scientific Certainty: The Monsanto Roundup Ruling Explained: Juries sometimes render verdicts on scientific questions, but that doesn’t mean their verdict is always accepted by the scientific community at large. by Alex Kasprak (17 August 2018) Snopes.
- Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup? (August 15, 2018). Environmental Working Group. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- CBS News (August 15, 2018). Weed-killing chemical linked to cancer found in some children's breakfast foods
- Reisinger, D. (August 16, 2018). Roundup Weed Killer Chemical Found in Cheerios and Quaker Oats. TIME. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- Fox, M. (August 17, 2018). Group says weed killer is in your oat-based cereal, but are you really in danger? NBC News. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- Neal, D. (August 17, 2018). A pesticide’s active ingredient might be in your kids’ breakfast. Don’t worry about it. Miami Herald. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- Colemann, R. (August 16, 2018). How Does EWG Set a ‘Health Benchmark’ for Glyphosate Exposure? Environmental Working Group. Retrieved August 20, 2018.