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Daily News Blog

26
Apr

More Reasons than Ever to Buy, Eat, and Support Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, April 26, 2018) Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. The guide includes the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists of conventionally grown produce items that, respectively, are the most heavily tainted by toxic pesticide residue, and by contrast, have little if any residue. EWG analyzes testing conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Pesticide Data Program to arrive at its annual assessment. Its report for 2018 found that nearly 70% of conventional produce is contaminated with residue and/or breakdown byproducts of one or more of the 230 pesticides that USDA evaluated.

The top items on the 2018 Dirty Dozen list include strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, and grapes. One-third of all the strawberry samples harbored 10 or more pesticides, and one sample showed residue of 22 different compounds. Pesticide contamination was found in 97% of spinach samples, 94% of nectarines, 90% of apples, 96% of grapes, and 99% of peaches. Topping the 2018 Clean 15 list of the least-toxic conventionally grown produce items are avocados (99+% of samples tested negative for pesticides), sweet corn (98+%), pineapples (90%), onions (90+%), and cabbage (86%). EWG again this year added hot peppers as the 13th item on its Dirty “Dozen” list. Although they do not meet EWG’s standard ranking criteria, nearly 75% were contaminated, and often, with residues of neurotoxic insecticides.

Conventionally grown crops are subject to chemically intensive practices, including the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and various petrochemical inputs, such as synthetic “fertilizers.” These stand in contrast to organic practices, which Beyond Pesticides endorses as the only safe and sustainable approach to agriculture. The risks of pesticide residues to human health are not the only reasons to go organic; these compounds also represent threats to farmers and farmworkers, and to our soil, water, air, biodiversity, pollinators, and rural communities. Beyond Pesticides’ database, Eating with a Conscience, evaluates impacts — on the environment and on farmworkers — of the chemicals used, domestically and internationally, on major food crops.

The top-level takeaway from the EWG report is that a huge portion of the U.S.population is necessarily consuming a virtual smorgasbord of pesticides every day, and — as Beyond Pesticides recommends — would do well to shift its consumption habits to organic. An apparent irony is that a healthful diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, yet much of the produce people consume likely comes laced with hazards associated with those pesticides. Those health risks include asthmaautism and learning disabilitiesbirth defects and reproductive dysfunctiondiabetesParkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and several types of cancer.

The EWG 2018 report references a recent study that found lower fertility rates associated with women’s consumption of high-pesticide produce. (Study subjects were women undergoing infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technology.) Other emerging evidence points to reduced semen quality associated with dietary exposures through consumption of food with residues. In 2012, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report that said that “children have ‘unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.’ The organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life to pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function and behavioral problems.” Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with EWG, notes that “avoiding pesticides is especially important when women are pregnant [or] planning to get pregnant, or parents are feeding kids.”

It should be noted that there is no surefire way to wash pesticide residue from produce. Not only does produce have pores through which pesticides can be ingested into the body of the vegetable or fruit, but also, some pesticides are designed to penetrate into the interior tissues, making washing irrelevant.

For consumers, buying and eating organic is the obvious way to avoid the risks associated with consumption of chemical residues on and in food. Indeed, a 2015 study out of the University of Washington found that “people who report they often or always buy organic produce had significantly lower quantities of organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples. This was true even though they reported eating 70 percent more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults who reported they rarely or never purchase organic produce.”

The refrain that organic food is expensive belies the complexity and relative inscrutability of the dominant food system. Beyond Pesticides’ article, “The Real Story on the Affordability of Organic Food,” lays out the hidden costs and risks of conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture, and offers helpful ideas on eating organic on a budget. The Clean 15 can be a help in this regard, but the list doesn’t tell the whole story. Items on it exhibit minimal residues, but those “cleaner” food commodities may be grown with pesticides that can contaminate aquifers and waterways, persist in soil, compromise the health of farmworkers and local communities, and kill wildlife — all while not showing up at detectable levels on our food. Check out the Eating with a Conscience database to see, for example, what chemicals are used on avocados, sweet corn, and onions.

Beyond Pesticides advocates strongly for organics. USDA’s organic certification is the only system of food labeling that is subject to independent public review and oversight. Organic certification ensures that food is produced using practices rooted in soil biology, biodiversity, and plant health — eliminating toxic chemicals, commonly used in the production and processing of food, that harm everything but the manufacturers’ bottom lines. Shifting to organics has benefits far beyond human health: the choices people make about what they buy and consume have direct impacts on the health of those who grow and harvest food, and on the health of the environment.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews and http://www.ehn.org/worst-foods-for-pesticides-2558353116.html

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