The Environmental Working Group has released its annual “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” guides to pesticides in produce with strawberries claiming the top spot for most heavily sprayed food crop for the second year in a row.
Every year since 2004, EWG has analyzed USDA data on pesticide loads in common fruits and vegetables. It then turns those into its iconic lists to help shoppers avoid excess chemical exposure in everyday foods.
Spinach moves up from number eight into the second spot on the list, in what EWG says is a result of a “sharp increase in pesticide residues on non-organic spinach since the crop was last tested eight years ago.” It contained on average, twice the pesticide load by weight than any other crop.
Pears made their first appearance on the list, moving from 22 to sixth, as pesticide use has “increased dramatically” in recent years, EWG notes.
According to the recent USDA data, pesticide residue on pears doubled between 2010 and 2015 from 0.6 parts per million to 1.3 parts per million, with more than half of pears testing positive for five or more pesticides, and more than 20 pesticides overall.
“The average amount of pesticides found on pears was greater than that on other [Dirty Dozen listed] tree fruit crops, including peaches, nectarines, apples and cherries,” the report noted.
EWG says some baby food purees that contain pear could not be legally sold in Europe because pesticide residue levels are too high (EU regulations prohibit baby food–and any processed foods–from containing more than 10 parts per billion of any type of pesticide).
Of the 48 popular fruits and vegetable tested, EWG researchers noted nearly 70 percent of samples contained residue of one or more types of pesticides. While washing produce can remove some chemical exposure, the pesticides in the samples remained after washing and peeling.
But the group says the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables—organic or not—far outweighs the risks of pesticide exposure.
“Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is essential no matter how they’re grown, but for the items with the heaviest pesticide loads, we urge shoppers to buy organic,” Sonya Lunder, an EWG senior analyst said in a statement. “If you can’t buy organic, the Shopper’s Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides.”
According to Lunder, children are particularly vulnerable to the potential health issues linked to chemical exposure, despite being within limits deemed safe by USDA and FDA regulations.
“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, “so when possible, parents and caregivers should take steps to lower children’s exposures to pesticides while still feeding them diets rich in healthy fruits and vegetables.”
The full lists are noted below.
11. Sweet Bell Peppers
1. Sweet Corn
6. Sweet Peas (frozen)
11. Honeydew Melon
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