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EWG’s 2010 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

“You can reduce your exposure to pesticides by up to
80 percent by buying the organic version…”
—Environmental Working Group

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization based out of Washington, DC whose goals include protecting “the most vulnerable segments of the human population…from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants” and replacing “federal policies…with policies that invest in conservation and sustainable development”, issued a guide earlier this year which provides a much needed insight into the potential contamination present in conventionally-grown produce. This guide details and compares produce commonly found at your local grocery store, compiling data from nearly 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, all taken from produce which had been power-washed by the USDA to remove external pesticides present on the produce’s outer layer.

Higher risk produce, containing higher levels of contaminants, were deemed the “Dirty Dozen” and produce which were considered relatively safe to consume in a conventionally-grown manner were deemed the “Clean Fifteen”. For instance, celery, which has the highest pesticide concentration among the conventionally-grown produce tested, contained up to 67 ingestible pesticides! Many of the pesticides used with conventionally-grown produce are taken up in the roots (due to soil contamination) or permeate the skin of the produce, dispelling the often held belief that simply washing the outside of the produce will remove pesticide contamination. As a general rule, the thicker the produce’s skin, the lower the pesticide burden, which is why onions, avocados, and pineapples were among the safest foods to eat in a non-organic or conventionally-grown form.

The EWG’s Case for Organically-Grown Produce

The crux of the EWG’s case for organically-grown produce rests primarily on the health concerns conventionally-grown produce poses to the consumer. The following is a brief overview of the EWG’s argument for organic produce:

  • Pesticides are designed to kill organisms and as such can cause harm to humans, especially children, whose developing bodies may leave them particularly vulnerable to endocrine and nervous system defects
  • Conditions associated with pesticide consumption include: nervous system toxicity, cancer, hormone system effects, skin, eye, and lung irritation, ADHD, and a weakened immune system, correlating pesticides to many other health conditions
  • Foods deemed the “dirty dozen” contain up to 47 to 67 pesticides per serving—by buying the organic version of the “dirty dozen”, consumers can reduce exposure to pesticides by up to 80% (which is supported by the President’s Cancer Panel)

The Dirty Dozen

The “Dirty Dozen” comprise produce which is the highest risk to the consumer’s health when grown using non-organic or conventionally-grown methods. The following list is ordered according to toxicity, from highest to lowest toxicity:

    1. Celery  Axis Chiropractic + Wellness of Lee's Summit: Dirty Dozen "Celery"
    2. Peaches
    3. Strawberries
    4. Apples
    5. Domestic Blueberries
    6. Nectarines
    7. Sweet Bell Peppers
    8. Spinach, Kale, and Collard Greens
    9. Cherries
    10. Potatoes
    11. Imported Grapes
    12. Lettuce

The Clean Fifteen

The “Clean Fifteen” comprise produce which contain lower levels of pesticides. They are not pesticide-free, but due, in part, to qualities inherent in the produce, such as thicker skin, they are less pesticide-dense. The EWG offers this selection for those of us shopping on a budget or those who cannot access the organic versions of this produce at a local grocer. As always, organically-grown produce is more nutrient-rich with fewer contaminants, so choosing organic is preferred if it is within your budget or readily available to you. The list below is ordered from lowest to highest toxicity among the low-risk produce group:

    1. Onions   Axis Chiropractic + Wellness of Lee's Summit: The Clean 15 "Onion"
    2. Avocados
    3. Sweet Corn
    4. Pineapples
    5. Mango
    6. Sweet Peas
    7. Asparagus
    8. Kiwi Fruit
    9. Cabbage
    10. Eggplant
    11. Cantaloupe
    12. Watermelon
    13. Grapefruit
    14. Sweet Potatoes
    15. Sweet Onions

For a full list from the EWG’s 2010 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, click here.

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