Joanna Dolgoff, M.D.
May 24, 2011
The growing consensus among scientists is that certain doses of pesticides and other chemicals can possibly cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood. Some scientists are warning of the long-term consequences of ingesting these powerful chemicals and advise that we minimize our consumption of pesticides.
According to the Environmental Working Group, consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80 percent by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating only the cleanest. If consumers get their USDA-recommended five daily servings of fruits and veggies from those that are most contaminated, they could possibly consume an average of 10 pesticides a day. Those who eat the 15 least contaminated conventionally grown produce will likely ingest fewer than two pesticides daily.
EWG has been publishing guides to the “dirty dozen” of the most pesticide contaminated foods since 1995, based on statistical analysis of testing conducted by the USDA and the FDA. The dirty dozen list only reflects measurable pesticide residues on the parts of the foods normally consumed (i.e. after being washed and peeled). Below is the latest EWG guide to the “dirty dozen,” along with recommendations for foods other than fruits and vegetables that are best bought organic, along with information about antibiotics, hormones and the impact of producing food on the surrounding environment.
A recent USDA Inspector General report found that the government is failing to even test meat for the harmful chemicals the law requires.
Raising animals with conventional modern methods often means using hormones to speed up growth, antibiotics to resist disease on crowded feed lots and both pesticides and chemical fertilizers to grow the grain fed to the animals. Additionally, it takes many times the water and energy to raise one meal’s worth of meat than it does one meal’s worth of grain.
To meet USDA standards, certified organic meat can come only from animals fed organic feed and given no hormones or antibiotics. Searching out cuts from grass-fed animals ensures that you’re eating meat from an animal that was fed a more natural diet, and looking for a local source of meats lets you question the farmer directly about the animal’s diet and the farmer’s method of raising it. It cuts down on the environmental cost of transportation, too.
Pesticides and other man-made chemicals have been found in dairy products — milk is of special concern because it is a staple of a child’s diet. Organic dairies cannot feed their cows with grains grown with pesticides, nor can they use antibiotics or growth hormones like rGBH or rbST.
Celery has no protective skin, which makes it almost impossible to wash off the chemicals that are used on conventional crop making celery rank number one in the 2010 analysis, up from number four in 2009.
Multiple pesticides are regularly applied to these delicately skinned fruits in conventional orchards.
If you buy strawberries out of season, they’re most likely imported from countries that use less-stringent regulations for pesticide use.
Like peaches, apples are typically grown with the use of poisons to kill a variety of pests, from fungi to insects. Scrubbing and peeling doesn’t eliminate chemical residue completely, so it’s best to buy organic when it comes to apples.
New on the Dirty Dozen list in 2010, blueberries are treated with as many as 52 pesticides, making them one of the dirtiest berries on the market.
With 33 different types of pesticides found on nectarines, they rank up there with apples and peaches among the dirtiest tree fruit.
Peppers have thin skins that don’t offer much of a barrier to pesticides. They’re often heavily sprayed with insecticides.
New on the list for 2010, spinach can be laced with as many as 48 different pesticides, making it one of the most contaminated green leafy vegetable.
Traditionally kale is known as a hardier vegetable that rarely suffers from pests and disease, but it was found to have high amounts of pesticide residue when tested.
Even locally grown cherries are not necessarily safe. In fact, in one survey in recent years, cherries grown in the U.S. were found to have three times more pesticide residue then imported cherries.
America’s popular spud reappears on the 2010 dirty dozen list, after a year hiatus.
Imported grapes run a much greater risk of contamination than those grown domestically (only imported grapes make the 2010 Dirty Dozen list). Vineyards can be sprayed with different pesticides during different growth periods of the grape, and no amount of washing or peeling will eliminate contamination because of the grape’s thin skin.