Rating Fruits & Veggies for Pesticide Residues: EWG’s Dirty Dozen for 2018

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) over the past couple of decades has issued an annual list of fruits and vegetables with high pesticide loads that should be avoided if at all possible. The non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment recommends that fruits and vegetables included in its Dirty Dozen rankings should be purchased organic.

In more recent years, the group has also issued a list of The Clean 15, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticide residues. If a consumer’s standard for determining whether to purchase organic fruits and vegetables is based upon personal health concerns and budget constraints, EWG’s two lists provide helpful guidance.

But there are other important reasons to choose a diet of 100% organic fruits and vegetables: protection of the environment (including the health of the soil) and the well-being of farmworkers, who apply the pesticides to crops or work in the fields after they have been applied. AND of particular note, small children and pregnant women should avoid fruits and vegetables with high pesticide loads.

It’s been nearly a decade sine the President’s Cancer Panel submitted a landmark report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now by Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr. and Dr. Margaret L. Kripke, which exhorted consumers to choose food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Nicholas Kristoff, the New York Times columnist, summarized the findings of the report in an informative column, which eight years later remains a must-read.

Sadly, the alarm bells about chemicals and cancer (in Mr. Kristoff’s words) sounded by the landmark report have not been acted upon by governmental authorities, which leaves it up to individual consumers to make wise food purchasing decisions. [And in our opinion, early spring 2018 would be a fine time for consumers to become shareholders in an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. We offer directories of CSA farms throughout the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Wales.] For further appreciation of the issues,  Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto (Rodale, Inc. [distributed to the trade by Macmillan],  New York, New York 2010), which bemoans the annual use of 4 billion pounds of organophosphate pesticides in the United States and the dire health and environmental consequences, is recommended.

The Dirty Dozen, ranked by levels of pesticide residue, with 1 being the highest,  for 2018 are as follows: (1) Strawberries, (2) Spinach, (3) Nectarines, (4) Apples, (5) Grapes, (6) Peaches, (7) Cherries, (8) Pears, (9) Tomatoes, (10) Celery, (11) Potatoes and (12) Sweet bell peppers. EWG’s report highlighted these three findings: (1)  that more than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide,  (2) a single sample of strawberries showed 20 different pesticides, and (3) spinach samples had, on average, 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

The Clean 15, with the lowest levels of pesticide residue, with 1 being the least,  for 2018 are (1) Avocados, (2) Sweet corn, (3) Pineapples, (4) Cabbages, (5) Onions, (6) Frozen sweet peas, (7) Papayas, (8) Asparagus, (9) Mangoes, (10) Eggplant, (11) Honeydew melon, (12) Kiwis, (13) Cantaloupe, (14) Cauliflower, and (15) Broccoli. A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds, and EWG recommends buying organic varieties of these three crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce.

(Frank W. Barrie, 4/19/18)

Bananas Superior To Sports Drinks In Aiding Athletes’ Recovery From Intense Workouts

Organic & fair traded bananas sold at the Honest Weight Co-op in Albany, NY are not grown using chemical sprays (thereby avoiding risk to farmworkers’s health & negative environmental effects as well as supporting small farm economies, as noted in the web documentary Beyond the Seal)

Last month, we reported on the apparent superiority of fermented foods over manufactured probiotic pills. Now a recent study, reporting on an experiment carried out at the Human Performance Lab, located on the North Carolina Research Center in Kannapolis (Charlotte metro area) of Appalachian State University, confirms that a gift of nature, the banana, is a healthy alternative to sports drinks in athletes’ recovery from intense physical workouts. Michael Pollan’s major food rule, to avoid processed and manufactured food and drink (Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants), gains support from this carefully controlled experiment, which involved 20 cyclists, completing a 75-km (47-mile) timed cycling trials on four occasions.

Each cyclist had a two-week washout period between the four cycling trials, and the rides were each completed after an overnight fast. During one cycling trial, they drank only water. In other rides, they had water but also eight ounces of a sports drink every 30 minutes or water and half a banana every 30 minutes.

An article by Jennifer Woodward (New Study By Appalachian Human Performance Laboratory Finds Banana Compounds Act as COX-2 Inhibitor, 3/27/18) in Appalachian Today, the online publication of Appalachian State University, includes this summing up of the results of the study by David Nieman, director of the Human Performance Lab and the lead author of the study:

Consuming bananas with water during exercise has several advantages for athletes and fitness enthusiasts above those linked to regular sports drinks, including a stronger anti-inflammatory effect, better nutrition and improved metabolic recovery.

Blood was drawn from the cyclists before the cycling trials, immediately after and at several additional points, extending out to 45 hours after completion of the 75-km ride. Scientists analyzed blood markers of inflammation and levels of metabolites (molecules that can change during and after exertion and signify how much stress the body feels).

According to Woodward’s article, there were two key results found after bananas were ingested. First, a significant increase in at least 18 banana-derived metabolites, including serotonin and dopamine byproducts, which coincided with a reduction in COX-2 mRNA expression, which normally increases with exercise. Reducing COS-2 mRNA expression usually results in less inflammation and reduced swelling  and the perception of pain.

The second key result was the presence of banana antioxidants, which kept the cyclists’ immune cells operating optimally, preventing them from switching to less efficient energy production methods. Woodward notes that intense exercise often depresses immune function due to physiological stress, and the study confirmed that carbohydrate ingestion, whether from bananas or the sports drink, supported endurance performance and reduced markers of post-exercise inflammation.

The full study, Metabolic recovery from heavy exertion following banana compared to sugar beverage or water only ingestion: A randomized, crossover trial, was published (3/22/18) in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Gretchen Reynold, who reported on the banana’s comparable or greater anti-inflammatory and other benefits for athletes than sports drinks, in a Well column (4/10/18) in the New York Times noted that Director David Nieman will follow up these results with research to discover how bananas seem to inhibit COX-2 mRNA expression (like anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen) after exercise. Reynolds also noted that the study also did not answer whether half of a standard banana every 30 minutes is the ideal amount of the fruit during exertion, and that the researchers plan to explore the effects of other fruits particularly dates, which have even more sugar than bananas.

At a memorable presentation by Michael Pollan several years ago at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, New York, the Omnivore’s Dilemma author contended that the current focus on nutritionism which undergirds the marketing of so much processed food (including sports drinks) creates unnecessary confusion for consumers. Instead, he maintains persuasively that the fundamental truth is that any traditional diet of real food is superior to consumption of processed foods with unpronounceable additives. In his view, why a carrot or an apple is good to eat is a continuing mystery, and this mystery cannot be solved by merely analyzing nutrients because a carrot is more than the sum of its nutrients. Similarly, how a banana inhibits COX-2 mRNA expression may well turn out to be similarly mysterious, although the fact that it does so has been established.

(Frank W. Barrie, 4/12/18)

Pineapples Growing In Providence, R.I., An Unlikely Reminder That 99.9% Grown In Other Countries

A visit to the largest indoor garden in New England, Roger Williams Park Botanical Center in Providence, R.I. and the magical sight of growing pineapples raises the spirits

“Truly organic, truly fair” Covilli brand Organic Oaxacan Gold Pineapple in the Honest Weight’s produce department (Origin on sign should read Mexico, not Costa Rica!)

Native Forest 100% Organic Pineapple in 14 ounce cans & 3 options: Crushed, Sliced, or Chunks

Two fresh Organic Oaxacan Gold Pineapples to slice into and enjoy in the days ahead

Reporter David Karp in his recent article in the New York Times, Our New Global Garden (3/14/18), cites statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A) Economic Research Service, which demonstrate the steady rise in the import of fruits and vegetables grown in other countries. The latest information from the U.S.D.A. shows that from 1975 to 2016, the percentage of total U.S. sales of fresh fruit and vegetables from other countries has risen from approximately 22% to 53% for fruit, and from approximately 5% to 32% for vegetables.

Bananas, limes, mangoes and pineapples top the list of fruits and vegetables, which at 99.9%, represent the highest percentage of fresh produce grown outside the United States. But it should also be noted that in 2017, avocados surpassed bananas as the most valuable fruit based on monetary value imported into the United State. Avocados have been described recently as the fruit of global trade with more than 1.7 billion pounds of Haas avocados exported to the U.S. from Mexico’s Michoacan State (upland from the beaches of Acapulco).

To an older American with a memory of enjoying Hawaiian pineapple as a child, it’s startling to discover that Hawaii no longer grows the delicious fruit for the American market. Last year, reporter Brittany Lyte in an article in the Washington Post, With pineapple and sugar production gone, Hawaii weighs its agricultural future (12/17/17), noted that in 1980, Hawaii hosted 14 sugar and four pineapple plantations that farmed more than 300,000 acres. In 2017, these two crops accounted for less than 5,000 acres. Once the largest pineapple plantation in the world, the island of Lanai’s former crop beds were now parched and deserted.

Reporter Lyte quotes Alika Atay, a Maui County Councilman: There’s no reason why we should go to a grocery store and see a banana from Ecuador or Mexico. We can grow banana here. . . Why do we go to the store and see mango from Chile, not mango from Maui, when Maui grows some of the sweetest-tasting mango in the world? On an island chain that once was completely self-sufficient — before the arrival of Westerners in the late 1700s, indigenous Hawaiians thrived 2,500 miles from the nearest continent using sustainable farming and fishing methods — the article in the Washington Post sounds a positive note that many Hawaiians believe a resurgence of local agriculture is possible.

With this accelerating globalization of agriculture in mind, it was a surprise to see pineapples growing in Providence, Rhode Island on a recent visit to a wonderful indoor garden, the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center, New England’s largest indoor garden. Especially with spring weather in the northeast delayed in arriving this year, touring 12,000 square feet of indoor gardens in the Botanical Center’s two main greenhouses over Easter weekend was spirit raising.

No surprise then that on returning home, on the next visit to the Honest Weight Food Co-op, a display of pineapples in the produce department was of special interest. This omnivore, who is long-term shareholder in a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm and who avoids the consumption of foods grown with the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, usually sticks to seasonal, local fruit which is organically grown: apples, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, plums, & peaches. (With regard to local plums and peaches, low-spray is sometimes the only option.)

In recent years, the cold storage of apples, has resulted in local, organic apples available nearly year-round. And organic frozen berries are a year-round part of every day consumption; in particular, this consumer stocks up on fresh organic Cape Cod cranberries which are frozen for later use.

Still, a couple of organic pineapples made it into the shopping basket on the recent visit to the local food co-op. Pleased to say, the Honest Weight’s fresh pineapple, imported from Mexico’s Oaxaca State, was labeled organic and fair-traded. Covilli’s Oaxacan Gold Pineapple is described on its label as Truly organic, truly fair. On Covilli’s website, the company explains:

In a marketplace blindly saturated with products that have been brought to us by the use of unfair and discreditable labor practices, we now have a chance to CHOOSE & BE FAIR. Integrity and equitability have always been part of Covilli’s core values and acquiring the Fair Trade certification was only natural. In a nutshell: Being certified confirms that the farm workers of Covilli have safe working conditions, access to healthcare and education for workers’ children; regulated hours as well as personal and sick days. Fair Trade also verifies sustainable farming practices.

The canned pineapple sold by the Albany, NY food co-op in its grocery aisle is also organic, Native Forest 100% Organic Pineapple in organic pineapple juice. Native Forest is a trademark of Edward & Sons, described as A Family Owned Vegetarian Company since 1978. Shown on the cans of pineapple as a product of Vietnam, there is no reference to fair trade either on the can or on the website of Edward & Sons Trading Co., Inc. Nonetheless, the label on the can does note: Organic certification assures you of sustainable farming practices which nourish soil, protect biodiversity and provide a premium to farmers.

Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants, published in 2008 by the National Geographic Society, and a worthy addition to any home library, notes that pineapple is native to Brazil and Paraguay and the first people to relish the fruit were the Tupi-Guarani Indians. By the end of the 16th century, the Portuguese and Spanish introduced pineapples to India, China and Indonesia and the west coast of Africa. Although favoring seasonal, local fruits, indulging in organic, fair-traded pineapple is an occasional treat for this 21st century citizen of the United States.

(Frank W. Barrie, 4/5/18)

Citizen Lawsuit Moving Forward Against Industrial Chicken Processing Facility Producing 2.4 Million Gallons of Daily Waste

Food & Water Watch is a plaintiff, along with local residents in the Indian River Bay area of Delaware, whose drinking water has been contaminated by nitrates from an industrial chicken processing facility’s daily production of 2.4 million gallons of waste

The non profit legal advocacy organization, Public Justice, along with private law firms, is representing plaintiffs in a complaint against the waste produced by an industrial chicken processing facility

The declaration by Scott Pruitt, who now leads the federal Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), of a new day, and a new future for the agency, worries Americans concerned about the rollback of policies aimed at protecting the environment as well as health-protective rules. The rollback has happened fast: as of early 2018, 67 environmental rules are on the way out under Trump according to a report in the NY Times (updated as of 1/31/18). And in the succinct words of an editorial in the NY Times, Alone and Adrift in a Warming World: The hacks, industry careerists and global warming deniers [Trump] has appointed to run agencies responsible for climate policy are mostly a joke.

In light of the demoralizing developments at the E.P.A. and the rejection of a scientific approach to addressing global warming, this ray of hope deserves special attention: The national advocacy group, Food & Water Watch, and the non-profit legal advocacy organization, Public Justice, have announced that steps have been taken to commence a Citizen Lawsuit under statutory provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a law designed to give citizens in the vicinity of toxic facilities a means of redress when their health or safety is damaged or at risk.

Residents of Delaware’s Indian River Bay area and Food & Water Watch (also a plaintiff) have taken the first step in maintaining a Citizen Lawsuit by providing notice to the E.P.A., the state of Delaware and most important to Mountaire Corporation (which operates a massive Hillsboro, Delaware chicken processing facility in the Indian River Bay area) that they intend to sue following Mountaire’s refusal to take adequate actions to stop contamination of local water supplies and residential wells. The chicken processing facility produces 2.4 million gallons of waste each day comprised of manure, feathers, carcasses, organs, blood, dirt and wastewater which is stored in lagoons and then the liquid part of the waste is sprayed onto nearby disposal fields.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a court may award costs of litigation (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) to the substantially prevailing party. Hats off to the two advocacy groups, Food & Water Watch and Public Justice for spotlighting citizens taking action for themselves given the worrisome changes at the E.P.A. One plaintiff, Gina Burton, who lives across a cornfield from the Mountaire facility, noted that her family’s land is the reason they could build this huge facility and that her family has suffered horrible health in recent years.

The groundwater aquifer below the Mountaire facility is the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding community. Groundwater monitoring has shown serious contamination of the water supply since at least 2000. A number of wells adjacent to the industrial chicken processing plant have routinely tested for nitrate contamination of 10 mg/l and above (levels deemed unsafe by state regulators). These levels of contamination according to the plaintiffs, have been proven to increase the risk of serious health risks, including some forms of cancer and autoimmune system dysfunction.

If Mountaire does not adequately address the concerns noted in the notice, the chicken processing facility will be subject to a lawsuit alleging that Mountaire is operating an open dump in violation of the prohibitions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The Delaware law firm of Jacobs & Crumplar, and Chris Nidel, a Washington D.C.-based environmental attorney at Nidel & Nace, PLLC as well as Jessica Culpepper, a staff attorney at Public Justice are representing the plaintiffs. Attorney Thomas Crumplar emphasized that Safe drinking water is not a privilege of a select few but is a basic right for all, and attorney Chris Nidel noted that No one should be forced to bathe in bottled water because they worry about the safety of their pregnancy.

(Frank W. Barrie, 3/30/18)

B.U. Undergrads Demonstrate Potential Superiority of Fermented Foods Over Probiotic Pills

Fermentation On Wheels includes easy-to-follow recipes for sauerkraut, adzuki-bean miso, kombucha & sour dough starter plus 47 other fermented foods

Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY maintains a Kombucha Bar with delicious fermented teas from Vermont’s Aqua ViTea and YesFolk in Troy (Rensselaer County), NY (Click on photo to enlarge & see the variety of flavors)

Barley or rice inoculated with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae (Koji) is used to make miso and the Honest Weight offers organic Miso Master’s traditional red miso, brown rice miso & country barley miso as well as organic Hatcho Miso known as the “emperor’s miso”, highly prized in Japan

Honest Weight stocks a shelf in a grocery aisle with various brands of organic apple cider vinegar including Bragg’s, Eden Organic, Omega Nutrition, & Vermont Village

Late last year, in our book review of Tara Whitsitt’s Fermentation on Wheels, we noted that a daily dose of something fermented, like delicious sauerkraut, dill pickles or sourdough pancakes, will help get and keep a healthy gut-biome going. And earlier this month, in our review of The Hidden Half Of Nature, The Microbial Roots Of Life And Health by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé, we shared the almost incomprehensible news that there are some 1030 microbes on Earth – that’s a nonillion of them – and they’re everywhere, including deep within us.

It’s become clear that microbes should be our friends, with our health maintained through a microbes-driven balancing act. Instead, we are a nation in far poorer health than we were even a half-century ago: By feeding ourselves food that has been processed to an unhealthy degree, or eating food grown in such poor soil that it’s devoid of beneficial microbes and micronutrients – copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Our local pharmacies and many supermarkets have responded by offering shelves full of “probiotic” supplements, with manufacturers proclaiming that their products contain billions of live bacteria. In a recent article in Bostonia (Winter-Spring 2018), Gut Check, Researchers test the probiotics in food and supplements by Kate Becker, Boston University undergrad students and Sandra Buerger, a Boston University College of General Studies lecturer, received funding from the Boston University Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning to answer the question whether the manufactured supplements actually contain what the labels promise, and how they compare to fermented foods, which are also teeming with microbes.

So far, their preliminary results, which they hope to publish in the future, line up fairly well with what’s advertised on the pill bottles. The numbers from our methods have been a little lower than what’s claimed on the box, says Buerger, but there are definitely living bacteria in there.

Buerger decided to test the manufactured probiotic pills against popular fermented drinks that naturally contain good bacteria. She started with miso soup (made from fermented soybeans) and apple cider vinegar (fermented apple juice), then added kombucha, a fermented tea. Buerger and undergraduate students, Alexander Smith (Boston University College of General Studies ’19) and Yemi Osayame (Boston University College of Arts and Sciences ’19) repeated the process (also used to test the pills) of plating samples and growing bacteria.

While the bacteria from the pills colonized tidy white circles, the dishes plated with fermented foods bloomed in colorful, disorderly splotches. Buerger suggests that it might give fermented foods an edge over the more homogeneous drugstore probiotics: A healthy collection of gut bacteria is not one type of bacteria. It’s many types of bacteria, so there could be potential health benefits of having more variety. It’s also possible that the diversity could help the bacteria thrive which will be the subject of further research. According to Buerger, Bacteria interact with each other all the time. Some of those relationships are antagonistic, but other times they talk to each other and cooperate.

(Frank W. Barrie, 3/23/18)

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