Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released 2017’s Dirty Dozen™ list, which is comprised of fruits and vegetables most contaminated with pesticides. Strawberries are at the top of the list, with spinach at second place in the annual ranking of conventionally grown produce with the most pesticide residues. In the analysis, a single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides. Spinach, on average, had twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.
The EWG’s analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that nearly 70% of samples of 48 types of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues. A total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products were on the thousands of produce samples it analyzed. The pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to childhood cancer, brain disorders such as ADHD/ autism/ dyslexia, and infertility. The pesticide industry and chemical agriculture insist that pesticides on produce are nothing to worry about, but doctors and scientists strongly disagree.
Dr. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard and lead author of a 2014 study linking synthetic chemicals and brain disorders, is concerned because even ordinary (undiagnosed) children are often affected. “The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis… They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”
The 2017 Dirty Dozen™ List:
- Sweet bell peppers
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Here are some practical tips to help you make smart choices for you and your family:
- For produce heavily laden with pesticide residues (see the Dirty Dozen™ list above), buy organic. Reduce pesticide exposure, especially in children and if you are trying to conceive. “Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
- If buying fully organic is not in your budget, familiarize yourself with the Clean 15™ list. Foods on this list are least likely to contain pesticide residues, so you can buy conventional produce without worrying about excessive pesticide exposure. The Clean 15™: sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.
- Plain water will not wash away pesticide residues on produce. Try soaking fruits and vegetables in a plain white vinegar solution (4 parts water + 1 part vinegar) for 15 to 30 minutes. You may scrub produce with skin (e.g. apples) with a scrubby brush after they are done soaking. Rinse thoroughly before consuming. A salt water soak (1 tsp salt + 2 to 3 cups of water) can also be used to reduce chemical residues on produce. But note that no washing method is 100% effective for removing all pesticide residues.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of our diet. They contain numerous vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals that keep us healthy. A diet high in fruits and vegetables can help protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease and premature death. But you need to avoid buying foods contaminated with pesticides. Start making smart consumer choices today.