Organic Foods: Dirty Dozen Plus and Clean Fifteen

June 13, 2012

Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American environmental organization that advocates against the use of toxic chemicals, has published their 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

EWG’s guide refines and expands the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists based on updated data from the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen Plus list includes two additional advisories against non-organicgreen beans and kale/collard greens because they “may contain pesticide residues of special concern.” This warning refers to organophosphate pesticides, which are a class of neurotoxins which “have the potential to cause long term damage to the brain and the nervous system, which are rapidly growing and extremely vulnerable to injury during fetal development, infancy and early childhood.”

In general, infants and children are more susceptible to the effects of pesticide residues; their bodies do not have the same capacity for eliminating and mitigating damage from pesticides as adults do. Also, endocrine (hormone) disruption and neurotoxic effects on children’s brains and bodies during key developmental stages can have more lasting effects than in an adult whose body is already developed.

This is why EWG’s findings of organophosphates and other pesticides in baby food were a special concern.

Californians have reason to be especially concerned about #5 on the Dirty Dozen Plus list: strawberries. In 2010, California approved the use of a controversial new pesticide called methyl iodide. The approval went through despite opposition from the scientific review committee, which cited inadequate data and flaws in the evaluation of the chemical’s safety. Chemicals like methyl iodide are neurotoxic and can contribute to learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and ADHD in children.

California grows 90% of the nation’s strawberries, and as such its population could be affected by the chemical persisting in the environment. This may be a reason for Californians to support strawberry farms that don’t use the questionable pesticide.

EWG clearly states, however, that you’re generally better off eating your fruits and vegetables, even with pesticide residues, than not eating your fruits and veggies at all.

The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables. But with EWG’s Shopper’s Guide, consumers don’t have to choose between pesticides and healthy diets.

But this isn’t to say that you wouldn’t be even better off selecting the organic option when it comes to the Dirty Dozen.

So don’t throw away your non-organic apples and celery-but in the future it may be wise to spend a little extra on fruits and veggies grown without the use of pesticides, especially if you are pregnant or have young children.

Here are the highlights from EWG’s list.

The Dirty Dozen Plus produce with the most pesticide residues:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet Bell Peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries (domestic)
  12. Potatoes
  13. + Green Beans
  14. + Kale/collard greens

The Clean Fifteen least contaminated:

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  12. Sweet Potatoes
  13. Watermelon
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

See EWG’s website for the full list.

Other sources: