Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The dirty dozen

Tips for choosing between organic and non-organic produce

I used to have a difficult time navigating the produce section at Sobey’s and The Superstore, especially in the off-season. Availability of organic produce is still limited and can be inconsistent. So what to do when you want apples for the kids’ lunches but there are no organic available? How bad is non-organic produce? Let me tell you it was a happy day when we discovered “the dirty dozen” and the corresponding list of fruits and vegetables that are relatively safe when it comes to pesticide residue.

The list was developed by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization in the States. EWG has done extensive research on common fruits and vegetables to determine how much in the way of pesticide residues make it all the way to our tables. I hope you’re sitting down for this.

Here are the worst (in order of highest pesticide load):
1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Lettuce
9. Imported grapes (from outside Canada & the US)
10. Pears
11. Spinach
12. Potatoes

The “best” (in order of lowest pesticide load):
1. Onions
2. Avocado
3. Sweet corn (frozen)
4. Pineapples
5. Mango
6. Sweet peas (frozen)
7. Asparagus
8. Kiwi
9. Bananas
10. Cabbage
11. Broccoli
12. Eggplant

The “worst” tested high for both residue levels and multiple pesticide residues. You might like to know that research that helps to determine “safe” levels of pesticide residue tests each pesticide in isolation. But the worst crops are sprayed with multiple chemicals. For example, peaches and apples tested positive for nine different pesticides – that’s on a single piece of fruit. Sweet bell peppers were worse, with 11 pesticides detected on single samples.
You can come out from under the covers for the review of the “best”. About 75% of the eggplant, broccoli, sweet pea and cabbage samples had no detectable pesticides. The fruit results are even better. Less than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples had detectable pesticides on them.

This is not airy research. It’s based on an analysis of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on these foods, conducted from 2000 and 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It takes into consideration how people typically wash and prepare produce.
There is considerable undisputed research that connects pesticide exposure to nervous system damage, cancer and reproductive effects. The impact of multiple pesticide exposure is less clear because it’s so difficult to study. It’s also well understood that children are most vulnerable to pesticide toxicity (even in the womb).

Fortunately there is a bit of a silver lining to the gloomy research. You now have some helpful guidance when it comes to balancing your grocery budget and the availability of organic produce. Visit for the full list of products tested.

This article was previously printed in KV Style

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