by: Kelsey Coy
July 24, 2012
For the eighth year in a row, the Environmental Watch Group (EWG) has published an updated ‘shopper’s guide’ based on a comprehensive analysis of government pesticide testing data of 45 different fruit and vegetables. The guide includes the ‘dirty dozen:’ the twelve foods most commonly contaminated with pesticides, as well as the ‘clean fifteen:’ the fifteen least contaminated foods. This year the dirty dozen also includes a ‘plus’ category, warning about two foods containing particularly concerning organophospates, insecticides that are known reproductive and neurotoxins. The use of organophosphates have been significantly reduced in the past decade, but is yet to be banned, and this year, a number of crops still tested positive. The journal Environmental Health Perspectives contains 25 articles published in the past week analyzing and discussing the dangers or organophosphates in our food supply.
Also new this year, researchers investigated the pesticide content of 190 samples of baby food, with rather alarming results.
As the EWG simply and frankly reminds us, ‘Pesticides are toxic by design. They are created expressly to kill living organisms — insects, plants, and fungi that are considered “pests.” Many pesticides pose health dangers to people. These risks have been established by independent research scientists and physicians across the world.” The U.S. and international government agencies have linked pesticides to health problems spanning brain and nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormonal disruption and skin, eye and lung irritation. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under pressure from The American Crop Protection Association, largely representative of the pesticide industry, has failed to apply adequate protective measures in regulating our food supply. One might well ask whether it is wiser to protect a country’s crops or its population.
The Dirty Dozen
Without further ado, the dirty dozen:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Blueberries (domestic)
Plus 2 more to add to the dirty dozen:
- Green beans
- Kale/Collard Greens
Going into a little more detail for the dirty dozen, 100 percent of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides, as well as 98% of apples and 96% of plums. Grapes had 15 pesticides in a single sample, while blueberries and strawberries each had 13. As an entire category, grape samples contained 64 different pesticides; bell peppers had 88 different residues, cucumbers 81 and lettuce 78.
The Clean Fifteen
And the clean fifteen:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas
- Cantaloupe (domestic)
- Sweet Potatoes
Highlights of the clean fifteen include pineapples, in which fewer than 10% of samples contained pesticides, mangoes and kiwis, both of which were completely free of pesticides more than 75% of the time, and watermelon and domestic cantaloupe over 60% of the time. Among vegetables, no samples of sweet corn and onions had more than one pesticide and more than 90% of cabbage, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant and sweet potato samples contained no more than one pesticide.
One additional concern to consider: sweet corn, although it may contain less pesticide residues, is quite commonly genetically modified in the U.S. While genetically modified organisms (GMO) are banned or significantly restricted in Australia, Japan and throughout the European Union, the industry is still at large in the U.S., and no labeling is required by the federal government. For this reason, it is recommended that sweet corn consumption also be limited to organic.
Among baby food, green beans and pears were especially disturbing: almost 10% of green beans contained the organophosphate methamidiphos in amounts that could easily increase risk for brain and nervous system damage in infants consuming a four-ounce serving of green beans on a regular basis. 92% of pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide and over a quarter of samples contained five or more, including iprodione, categorized by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen, and not registered for use on pears. In fact, the presence of iprodione in pears of any kind constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
While there is no question that Americans need to eat more fruits and vegetables, it’s worth taking an extra step to make sure that produce is delivering the nutrition it’s supposed to, and nothing it’s not. Pause for a moment. Want some neurotoxins with that salad? I didn’t think so.