The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released the 2013 Dirty Dozen list, its annual roundup of the most pesticide-contaminated produce. This year, the list has expanded with a new Plus category to include two additions: summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards. While these veggies didn’t meet the traditional Dirty Dozen criteria (based on the number of pesticides found on samples, among other measures), researchers found these crops to be contaminated with pesticides that have toxic effects on the nervous system.
Both the leafy greens and summer squash were contaminated with pesticides that have been proven toxic to people— especially children—and wildlife. While these pesticides have been banned from residential use and are prohibited in many agricultural uses, traces still linger in the soil of fields where these crops are grown.
Also included in the Dirty Dozen this year are apples, which top the list of most contaminated fruits, followed by strawberries, grapes, and peaches. Celery was named the most contaminated vegetable, followed by spinach, sweet bell peppers, and cucumbers.
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“While studies have shown that washing can help reduce the pesticides that stick to produce, even after being washed, the EWG found that a shocking 68 percent of all samples tested positive for pesticides,” says Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst. Be sure to wash your produce thoroughly, but be aware that some pesticides will still linger on the skin or even inside the fruit or vegetable.
The major concern with pesticides, Lunder explains, is that they have been found to permanently affect children’s brains and behavioral development. Studies have shown that kids who have had high levels of exposure have lower IQ scores and other signs of nervous system toxicity, like developmental disorders.
“While the effects are not as dramatic for adults, pesticides have been linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, hormone disruption, and skin, eye, and lung irritation,” Lunder says. “We recommend the organic version of the produce on the Dirty Dozen list not only to ensure the health of your family, but also to support environmentally friendly farming practices that protect workers, water quality, and wildlife.”
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Your best bet? Take the EWG’s lists into consideration on your next trip to the supermarket, and go organic for Dirty Dozen produce when possible. But if your budget or lifestyle only allows for conventionally grown produce, don’t skip the produce aisle altogether! “The benefits of eating conventional fruits and veggies definitely outweigh the risks,” Lunder says. “It’s still better to include lots of fresh produce in your diet, no matter how it’s grown.”
Editor's note: The Alliance for Food and Farming released a statement on their position on the EWG's Dirty Dozen, saying in part, "The USDA, which monitors pesticide residues on foods through its Pesticide Data Program report, concludes that U.S. foods do not pose a safety concern based upon pesticide residues. The benefits of consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is indisputable. Decades of epidemiological studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables have the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases. These people are consuming primarily conventionally grown fruits and vegetables."