It’s that time of year again – spring – when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes it’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. It’s also when I’m reminded that fear sells and facts are more boring (but more essential!).
Many fruits and veggies on this list are popular favorites:
1. Strawberries 7. Cherries
2. Spinach 8. Pears
3. Nectarines 9. Tomatoes
4. Apples 10. Celery
5. Grapes 11. Potatoes
6. Peaches 12. Sweet Bell Peppers
This list always gets a ton of media attention (probably why the EWG keeps issuing it) but it fails miserably at giving context, and that’s unconscionable for an issue that’s so important.
As a practicing clinician of some 33 years, what concerns me most about this list is that it can put already confused consumers off of eating produce. It’s exactly what shouldn’t happen, but research suggests it’s exactly what DOES happen. This study – not industry-funded, please note – found that:
“Messages naming specific FV with pesticides shifted participants toward
‘less likely’ to purchase any type of FV regardless whether organically or conventionally grown.”
Exactly what no responsible health professional wants. The amount of solid, scientific evidence indicating the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables is overwhelming and indisputable. That research – all of it – was carried out with conventionally grown produce.
Pesticide Residues: Perspective & Context
The issue of pesticide residues has been scrutinized by the feds for ages. The EPA is extremely conservative in setting allowed levels of pesticides. Indeed, many countries follow our lead on this.
Strawberries were ranked #1 on the Dirty Dozen list. Yet, EPA has found that a typical 3½-oz portion of strawberries had maximum residues that were about 1/100th of allowed levels.
Cutting to the chase: You’d have to eat about 22 pounds of strawberries daily – for life – to reach the EPA threshold levels.
Another perspective: Take two Olympic-sized swimming pools, both bone-dry. You throw a drop of water into pool A and 100 drops of water into pool B. You can accurately say:
• Pool B actually has 100 times more water than pool A.
Now, in context:
• You won’t drown in either pool.
• You won’t even get wet in either pool.
Organic ≠ Pesticide-Free
Reality bites: pesticides are allowed on organic crops. If you like eating organic and can afford it, go for it, but know it’s still not pesticide-free — and that’s OK. Some other facts about organic that most people don’t know:
• There are several HUNDRED “natural” pesticides that USDA approves for organic farming.
• Even some synthetic pesticides are allowed on organic crops. Check the feds’ complete list here.
• Pesticide residues on organic crops aren’t monitored as thoroughly as they are on conventionally grown crops. The National Organic Standards Board has 15 people. Only one is a scientist.
ALL produce deserves cheers, not fears. So read the Dirty Dozen list if you like. When you know the facts, you won’t worry. You’ll do what I do: yawn — and grab an apple.
MORE: Want to know if corn is a vegetable? Do Beans count as veggies, too? Want about canned/dried/frozen fruit? I have you covered. Get the answers here.