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Pesticide-Food Guides Highlight Importance of Eating Organic for Health, Workers and the Environment

(Beyond Pesticides, June 15, 2011) This week’s release of the new Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce (Dirty Dozen/Clean 15) by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which focuses on pesticide residues on conventional produce, highlights the importance of eating organic fruits and vegetables to minimize personal exposure to toxic pesticides. Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide complements the EWG list, going beyond residues on food to examine the impacts of the pesticides used to grow conventional produce on the health of farmworkers and rural communities, water quality, honey bees and wildlife poisoning, and more. Both Beyond Pesticides and EWG encourage shoppers to choose organic food whenever possible.

To create their seventh edition of the Shopper’s Guide, analysts at EWG synthesized data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most samples are washed and peeled prior to being tested, so the rankings reflect the amounts of the chemicals likely present on the food when is it eaten.

Apples, celery and strawberries top this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list. Making an appearance in the guide for the first time is the herb cilantro, which had never been tested by USDA until now. The data showed 33 unapproved pesticides on 44 percent of the cilantro samples tested, which is the highest percentage of unapproved pesticides recorded since EWG started tracking the data in 1995. Onions, sweet corn and pineapple received the best ratings on the “Clean 15” list.

“It is unfair that consumers are forced to shoulder the burden of ensuring that the food they choose for their families is not contaminated with dangerous levels of pesticides, rather than the government agencies charged with this responsibility. People have a right to healthy food regardless of income,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “Exposure to legal levels of pesticides has been linked to ADHD, cancer and other health effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should not be approving hazardous pesticides when organic alternatives exist.”

Consumers who choose five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG’s Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower the volume of pesticides they consume by 92 percent, according to EWG’s calculations. They will also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most-contaminated products would result in consuming an average of 14 different pesticides a day. Choosing five servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables would result in consuming fewer than two pesticides per day.

While choosing certain fruits and vegetables will limit your personal exposure to pesticides, many of these crops are still grown with pesticides that contaminate the environment and present health hazards. Many “clean” fruits and vegetables are treated with pesticides that are known to poison farmworkers and that are linked to cancer, Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases in rural communities. Children of farmworkers are also at risk. Other fruits and vegetables may not be contaminated with pesticide residues at the point of sale because they have washed off in the fields and contaminated drinking water. Because the USDA/FDA residue data is based on washed and peeled produce, many are considered clean, simply because the contaminated skin is not eaten, as is the case with onions, corn and pineapple. Both onions and sweet corn are commonly treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, the insecticides linked to colony collapse disorder and declining honey bee health.

Conventional onions, the best rated crop on the Clean 15 list, show low pesticide residues on the finished commodity, however there are 63 pesticides with established tolerances for onions: 26, acutely toxic, create a hazardous environment for farmworkers, 60 linked to chronic health problems like cancer, eight contaminate streams or groundwater, and 54 poison wildlife. While not all the pesticides on the list are applied to every onion, there is no way to tell which pesticides are applied to any given piece of conventional produce on your store shelf. Learn more about these hazards and why choosing organic food is the right choice with Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide.

“Pesticides, while designed specifically to kill certain organisms, are also associated with a host of very serious health problems in people, including neurological deficits, ADHD, endocrine system disruption and cancer,” said Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and a renowned medical expert on natural health and wellness. “My advice to consumers is to whenever possible avoid exposure to pesticides, including pesticide residues on food.”

For more information on the health effects of pesticide exposure, see Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. For more information on pesticides and the foods you eat, see the EWG’s Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce and Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience.


One Response to “Pesticide-Food Guides Highlight Importance of Eating Organic for Health, Workers and the Environment”

  1. 1
    Dona Marie Hippert Says:

    Thank you so much for this guide and your insights into the impacts of our food choices on everyone and on the environment. When I attended your recent National Forum in Denver, we had a lunchtime conversation on this very topic. I mentioned that while I applaud the work of EWG, and use their resources often, I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating ‘clean’ produce while knowing that others have likely suffered harmful effects in growing it or that it may be causing harm to ecosystems and drinking water. So I ALWAYS buy organic, or go without. I didn’t know that you were listening in at the next table. 😉

    Thanks again for this, and all the work that you folks at Beyond Pesticides do!


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