Pesticides, what harm can they do?

Beautiful fruits and veggies at a cost

Picking five servings of fruits and vegetables, that have been properly washed and/or peeled for serving, from the list of the most contaminated fruits and veggies would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day. According to a study done by the USDA.

What is the harm?
The toxicity most commonly associated with pesticides has been linked in studies to disruptions in the normal functioning of the nervous and endocrine system, and increased risks of cancer. Several long-term observational studies have indicated that organophosphate insecticides may impair children’s brain development.

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued an important report that said that children have “unique susceptibilities to [pesticide residues’] potential toxicity.” The pediatricians’ organization cited research that linked pesticide exposures in early life and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.”

Because cooking reduces levels of pesticides and baby food is cooked before packaging, it tends to contain fewer pesticide residues than comparable raw produce, but should not be considered “clean”.

Qualifying a list of contamination

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is continuously researching and documenting contamination and toxicity levels found in commercial fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non profit organization, compiles the research and publishes a list of fruits and vegetables ranked by their levels of pesticide contamination.

Key findings:

  • 99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
    A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.

The Dirty Dozen
The Dirty Dozen is a list of fruits and veggies with the most pesticides. Today, this list exceeds one dozen, and is often known as “Dirty Dozen Plus” Try to buy the following fruits and veggies organically if possible.

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas (imported)
  • Potatoes
  • Hot peppers
  • Kale / Collard greens

The Clean Fifteen
The Clean Fifteen is a list of fruits and veggies with the least pesticides.

  • Avocados
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangos
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

Where do I start?

  • Identify the fruits and veggies that you use the most. If they are on the dirty list, then try to buy them organically.
  • If you buy baby food, the same rule applies. Try to buy organic baby food for fruits and veggies on the dirty list, or make them yourself.
  • If you cannot find or afford organic types, cook them, because pesticides levels typically diminish when food is cooked.
  • You can grow your own organic food.

Is organic really that good?

  • I wish that I could say “YES!! It is the answer to all of our problems!” – but I can’t. Organic farmers use pesticides. There are many myths and untruths about organic farming that people who buy organic need to know about. A list of approved organic pesticides made available by the US Government Publishing Office clearly states the allowed use of toxic substances like copper sulfate without usage limitations. Just because it is organic, or “natural” instead of synthetic does not mean that it is safe.
  • On the other hand, there are many case studies sited by the EWG that show eating organic does reduce the amount of pesticides consumed. For example:

“A study by Cynthia Curl of the University of Washington published February 5, found that people who report they “often or always” buy organic produce had significantly less organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples, even though they reported eating 70 percent more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults reporting they “rarely or never” purchase organic produce (Curl 2015).”

For more information about the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen, please visit the EWG’s Foodnews page.

For a full detailed report, please visit the the EWG’s Foodnews Summary page. This link provides study methodologies and references.

Other articles and references of interest include:

babycenter.com – The dirty dozen…
huggingtonpost.com – Dirty Dozen Fruits…foodbabe.com – How to eat organic on a budget…
mayoclinic.com – Organic Foods: Are they safer?…
care2.com – 17 Essential Reasons to eat…