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May 19, 2014

More Reasons To Go Organic: The Dirty Dozen Crops That Use The Most Pesticides

There are many reasons why organically grown crops are becoming more and more desirable.  For one, it tends to support local farmers, better wages and fairer trade.  But another reason, that this article deals with directly, is about the benefits to our health.  Our health referring not just to those who consume the produce of others labor, but also the health of those who grow our food and who take it to market.

I both listened to a podcast and read a new report by the Environmental Working Group which I will summarize for you here if you don't find time to listen to it.  I will list the links in my blog if you want the whole, unabridged story from the source.  Hopefully, my commentary will encourage you to look at the source for yourself as we live in an age where there is too much secondhand knowledge.

The story I listened to was a podcast by Living On Earth about a new study by the Environmental Working Group that lists, from most-to-least, the 48 food crops that have the most residual pesticides that can't be washed off.  Here is the link to the story: ( http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=14-P13-00019&segmentID=3 ).  I emphasize here CAN'T BE WASHED OFF!  Therefore, if you ingest these crops you will also be ingesting the pesticides even if you try your darnedest to clean them. 

The top 12 crops (the dirty dozen), ordered from most-to-least, with the most residual pesticides are:

1) apples
2) strawberries
3) grapes
4) celery
5) peaches
6) spinach
7) sweet bell peppers
8) nectarines-imported
9) cucumbers
10) cherry tomatoes
11) snap peas-imported
12) potatoes

The top 12 cleanest crops, from cleanest-to-less-clean, are:

1) avocados
2) sweet corn
3) pineapples
4) cabbage
5) sweet peas-frozen
6) onions
7) asparagus
8) mangoes
9) papayas
10) kiwis
11) eggplants
12) grapefruit

Link to ratings of the full 48 food crop list by pesticide use.  Keep in mind that these are pesticides that cannot be washed off!

Link to the full report by the Environmental Working Group is worth a browsing as it addresses some of the failures of the EPA to regulate agribusiness and to inform the public about what we are eating and what potential risks might be associated with it.

Some quotable quotes from the Executive Summary:

Parents' concerns have been validated by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which in 2012 issued an important report that said that children have "unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues'] potential toxicity." The pediatricians' organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and "pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems."

European regulators are several steps ahead of their American counterparts. Over the past several years, they have raised new questions about the safety and ecological dangers of a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These chemicals are suspected of disrupting human brain development and of killing honeybees and other beneficial insects.

USDA testing has found neonicotinoid residues on about 20 percent of all produce samples and as much as 60 percent of broccoli, cauliflower, grapes, spinach and summer squash.

The European Commission has banned diphenylamine, DPA for short, on fruit raised in the 28 European Union member states and has imposed tight restrictions on imported fruit. DPA, a growth regulator and antioxidant, is applied after harvest to most apples conventionally grown in the U.S. and to some U.S.-grown pears, to prevent the fruit skin from discoloring during months of cold storage.

U.S. officials have not followed the Europeans in restricting either neonicotinoids or DPA.

Every sample of imported nectarines and 99 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.

The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food.

A single grape sample contained 15 pesticides.

Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.

Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.

No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen™ tested positive for more than 4 types of pesticides.

Detecting multiple pesticide residues is extremely rare on Clean Fifteen™ vegetables. Only 5.5 percent of Clean Fifteen samples had two or more pesticides.

Leafy greens - kale and collard greens - and hot peppers do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ ranking criteria but were frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends that people who eat a lot of these foods buy organic instead.

The USDA's most recent pesticide monitoring data included hundreds of samples of applesauce, carrots, peaches and peas packaged as baby food (USDA 2014). Because cooking reduces levels of pesticides and baby food is cooked before packaging, it tends to contain lower pesticide residues than comparable raw produce.

The U.S. has no special rules for pesticide residues in baby food. 

The USDA detected 10 different pesticides on at least 5 percent of 777 samples of peach baby food sold in the U.S (USDA 2014). Nearly a third of the peach baby food samples would violate the European guideline for pesticides in baby food because they contain one or several pesticides at concentrations of 0.01 part per million or higher.

The USDA tested 396 baby food applesauce samples for five pesticides (USDA 2014). Some 18 percent of the samples contained acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid pesticide that EC regulators singled out for additional toxicity testing because it might disrupt the developing nervous system (EFSA 2013). Another 17 percent of the samples contained carbendiazim, a fungicide.

The USDA found six pesticides in apple juice, a staple of many children's diets (USDA 2014). About 14 percent of the apple juice samples contained DPA.

Editorial Comment:

The most outrageous aspect of pesticide use, in my opinion, isn't about consumption, but production.  The farm workers of the United States of America and worldwide, who grow, cultivate and harvest the produce that finds its way to our tables, often tend to be poor, underpaid, over-worked, benefit-less, exploited, exposed to unreasonably hazardous conditions without protection and (at least in the case of the U.S.) are right-less, subject to deportation and to being torn apart from their friends and family.  From many of the reports cited by the Environmental Working Group and from reports and scientific articles that I have personally read, it tends to be the farm laborers in the USA who are most adversely affected by pesticide use, not consumers.  These people who have much higher exposure to these poisons have much higher rates of cancer, birth defects and other health issues (such as respiratory and reproductive problems) than the average person in the USA.  This might be a mere coincidence or it might be more than an anomalous correlation that points to the toxicity of the pesticides which are used and that these people are disproportionately exposed to.

What might even be more unjust than the exploitation of these people for our cheap food is the fact that it is known that many of these substances are particularly detrimental to pregnant women and to developing fetuses and children.  It seems unjust enough to exploit desperate people, but then to destroy the hope they've worked for, the well-being of and betterment of life for their children, by causing mental and physical development defects through the irresponsible use of toxins seems to demand a change in social policy.

On a different note I might add here that there are more responsible ways of growing food than the indiscriminate use of pesticides.  It may not be possible to grow all food crops for 7+ billion people on a totally organic basis, but there are many alternatives that would allow for organically grown crops to supplement much of the yield that would still require pesticides.  But for this transition to occur, organically grown foods would have to be cheaper and more accessible for all members of society.  This might require a subsidy program by the government, but seeing how the government sees fit to subsidize other socially-necessary commodities like oil and natural gas extraction, I don't see how they could rationalize not subsidizing something as socially-necessary as food.

-Seth Commichaux

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