Friday, February 15, 2008

Pesticides and Organic: A Review of the Most and Least Contaminated Produce

Pesticides are found everywhere - in our food, in the water, and in the air. There is no more doubt that they are posing health risks especially during pregnancy and childhood. Fortunately, the FDA regulates the amount of pesticides in food, but even at small quantities there is a health risk with long lasting effects. The problem with some produce is not only that they have pesticides at the highest limit allowed by the FDA, but there are many pesticides in each produce. For example, on an apple there can be up to 9 kinds of pesticides, or on a sweet bell pepper there can be up to 11 pesticides, and so on. The results of the studies are controversial and in some cases partly considered. Some pesticides (e.g., lindane, atrazine and many others) are used heavily in U.S. while they are banned in Europe due to health problems. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) developed a list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables based on a study of 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005.

“An EWG simulation of thousands of consumers eating high and low pesticide diets shows that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 14 pesticides per day, on average. Eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to less than 2 pesticides per day.”

I listed the first 12 most contaminated and last 12 least contaminated produce below but for a complete list go here: Test Results: Complete Data Set.

The most contaminated:

Peaches (the most contaminated)
Sweet Bell Peppers
Grapes - Imported

The least contaminated:

Sweet Peas-Frozen
Sweet Corn-Frozen
Onions (the least contaminated)

Most of these fruits and vegetables are already affordable to buy. The best solution would be to buy local; in this way you can support an organic farm next to you and more important, you can eat fresh every week (directly from the garden). I subscribe to a local farm and I just love it; I get fresh fruits and vegetables every week, they are diverse (so, I don’t get bored) and, last but not at least, I stay healthy by eating more greens and organic. If interested, check at Local Harvest to find a farm next to you.


Stacie said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I work in the produce industry. It's frustrating to see comments like, "the solution is to eat local" because so many regions of the country are not able to grow the bounty of produce that's found in places like California, Florida and Texas. I've been to my fair share of farmers markets and coops in the DC area that have out of season produce or produce that is not even grown within a thousand miles of the location, yet most consumers don't know that and think they are getting a "local food." I think a more realistic approach is encouraging people to eat foods grown in the U.S. (of course, this limits consumption of foods like bananas, the #1 fruit consumed in the U.S. but are not grown here). Consumers are far worse off not consuming produce at all than consuming conventionally grown foods that may have been shipped across the country. Just my two cents...

Lucia said...

Thanks a lot Stacie, that's something not that obvious to us leaving in CA; it's a low hanging fruit for us (pun intended), we get used to the availability and in other parts of the country local may mean "US Grown".My point was not the CSA, but how easy is to avoid pesticides.Of course, consuming produce is far more important than not consuming them at all because of pesticides.

Anonymous said...

Like with all marketing, the deception is in the details, as Stacie puts it: no one regulates what "local" or "fresh" means. Every industry learns that soon and "local" farms do it, as well.

But all things being nearly equal, I prefer getting vegetables from a farm (or farmers market) at a small premium instead of the Safeway "grown who know swhere and ripen in a truck" tasteless veggie lookalikes.