“This is a distortion not backed by science,” said Michael.

The latest EWG consumer guide came out after USDA released an overdue 2009 pesticide data program annual summary.

Eighteen produce trade organizations wrote U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on April 27, to express concern that the yearly pesticide residue data on fruits and vegetables may be misused by activist groups and the media to discourage people from consuming produce.

“While the USDA is not responsible for intentional mischaracterization by others, we strongly encourage USDA to provide the American public with a report that clearly reflects the strength of the regulatory system and the safety of products used to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers,” the letter said.

The USDA’s 194-page report charts pesticide residue tests for fresh and processed fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, grains, catfish, rice, specialty products, and water for 2009.

A little over 80 percent of the total samples collected in 2009 were from the following fresh and processed fruits and vegetables: apples, asparagus, canned beans, cilantro, cucumbers, grapes, green onions, lettuce (organic), oranges, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet corn (fresh on-the-cob/frozen), sweet potatoes and tomato paste.

“This report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by [the Environmental Protection Agency],” the report states in a section, “What Consumers Should Know.”

“In 2009, residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.3 percent of all samples tested and residues with no established tolerance were found in 2.7 percent of the samples,” the report said.

The USDA tried to consider how the report was used when writing the consumer section and in a letter in the front of the report, but the agency is charged with taking an objective view and cannot take an advocacy position, said Michael Jarvis, a USDA spokesman.