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)

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