A U.S. Department of Agriculture study of pesticide residue on produce has led a consumer-advocacy group to place apples at the top of their latest Dirty Dozen list, according to a June 12 report in the Wall Street Journal.

In its annual screening, the USDA's testing found residue of 48 different pesticides in 98% of apples–America's second-most-popular fruit, after bananas. In most cases, the residue was within what federal regulators consider safe limits.

In addition to apples, federal testing found that 97% of grapes were contaminated, 96% of strawberries, 94% of cilantro, 92% of potatoes and oranges and 85% of cucumbers. The least polluted with fungicides, pesticides and herbicides were organic lettuce (20%), asparagus (10%) and sweet corn (0.1%). These were the levels of pesticides that remained after washing the produce in water for 10 seconds.

The Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list, which identifies the produce the group says is the most contaminated with farm chemicals, is set to be released June 20. The group will also release its Clean 15 list Monday, which is topped by onions, sweet corn, pineapples and avocados.

Farmers have long criticized the USDA's list as needlessly worrying consumers. Likewise, the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the $2.2-billion industry, has long complained about the Dirty Dozen list, which ranked apples No. 4 last year. The pesticide trade group CropLife America estimates that crop losses would double without these insect- and weed-fighting chemicals, raising food costs.

Excessive exposure to pesticides has been proven to cause health problems, such as an increased risk of cancer. The USDA reported that only 3% of the samples of produce, beef and rice it analyzed in its most recent survey, which was based on samples collected in 2009, contained either unapproved pesticide or an improper amount of pesticide.

“The data we collect confirms that consumers can assume that residues, for the most part, fall within the EPA's tolerance level for safe food,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan told the Journal.

LA Weekly