Report Affirms Organic Food is the Healthiest Choice to Protect Consumers, Farmworkers, and the Environment
(Beyond Pesticides, March 15, 2016) An annual report using U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program residue data finds again this year that the crop grown in chemical-intensive agriculture with the most pesticide residues detected is strawberries. Spinach is number two, jumping from eighth place last year.
The “Dirty Dozen” report, released annually by Environmental Working Group (EWG) since 2004, ranks produce grown with pesticides and confirms that organically grown food is the safer choice. While the report focuses on food residues, beyond raising consumer health concerns, it also raises social and environmental concerns associated with the purchase of conventionally grown food, including farmer poisoning, water contamination and adverse effects to ecosystems and biodiversity, including pollinators.
EWG’s EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ finds that nearly 70 percent of samples of 48 types of conventional produce is contaminated with residues of one or more pesticides. USDA researchers find a total of 178 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analyzed. The pesticide residues remain on fruits and vegetables even after they are washed and, in some cases, peeled.
“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.
The “Dirty Dozen” list is helpful in alerting consumers to hazardous residues on food, but food residues are only part of the story. Along with a host of adverse health effects associated with their use, pesticides used in chemical-intensive agriculture can get into waterways and groundwater, contaminate nearby communities, poison farmworkers, and kill wildlife. However, some of these pesticides may not be found at detectable levels on food. Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide goes beyond pesticide contamination of food and considers all the externalities, both upstream and downstream, associated with the production of chemical-intensive fruits and vegetables. Choosing organic food is therefore more than choosing to reduce one’s pesticide exposure but it is also a choice to protect farmworkers, farming communities, water supplies, pollinators, and other wildlife.
For the “Dirty Dozen” list, EWG singled out produce with the highest loads of pesticide residues. In addition to strawberries and spinach, this year’s list includes nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. Each of these foods test positive for a number of different pesticide residues and contain higher concentrations of pesticides than other produce. Pears and potatoes are new additions to the “Dirty Dozen,” displacing cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from last year’s list.
- Nearly all samples (98%) of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples test positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
- The most contaminated sample of strawberries have 20 different pesticides.
- Spinach samples have an average of twice as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop. Three-fourths of spinach samples have residues of permethrin -a pyrethroid insecticide that is also a possible carcinogen.
Our food choices have a direct effect on the health of our environment and those who grow and harvest what we eat. That’s why food labeled organic is the right choice. For more information on how organic agriculture accomplishes the goal of safe, healthy and nutritious food without sacrificing sustainability, see Beyond Pesticides organic program page.
Source: EWG Release