Every year, the American nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes lists of the most pesticide-filled and cleanest fruits and vegetables. The group specializes in research and dissemination of information on toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies, public lands and corporate reporting. The mission of the EWG is to inform people to protect public health and the environment.
25 years ago, the National Academy of Sciences published a report expressing concern about children’s exposure to toxic pesticides through their diets, but the world’s population still consumes vast amounts of pesticides every day. While vegetables and fruits are important components of a healthy diet, studies show that pesticides in these foods can pose a risk to human health.
13 Dirtiest Foods
The list includes the following products, listed in descending order of the amount of pesticides: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, oyster mushrooms, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and hot red peppers.
Each of these foods tested positive for several different pesticide particles and contained higher concentrations of pesticides than the other foods.
More than 98% of strawberries, spinach, peaches, nectarines, cherries and apples were found to contain residues of at least one pesticide.
One strawberry sample showed the presence 20 different pesticides.
Spinach samples averaged 1,8 times the amount of pesticide residues compared to other crops.
Traditionally, the Dirty Dozen list contains 12 products, but this year it was decided to expand it to 13 and include red hot peppers. It was found to be contaminated with insecticides (chemical preparations to kill harmful insects) that are toxic to the human nervous system. USDA testing of 739 samples of hot peppers in 2010 and 2011 found residues of three highly toxic insecticides, acephate, chlorpyrifos, and oxamil. Moreover, the concentration of substances was high enough to cause nervous anxiety. In 2015, it was found that residues of these pesticides can still be found in the crop.
The EWG recommends that people who frequently eat hot peppers should opt for organic. If they cannot be found or are too expensive, they are best boiled or thermally processed as pesticide levels are reduced by cooking.
15 clean foods
The list contains products that have been found to contain fewer pesticides. It includes avocado, sweet corn, pineapple, cabbage, onion, frozen green peas, papaya, asparagus, mango, eggplant, honey melon, kiwi, cantaloupe melon, cauliflower and broccoli. The lowest concentrations of pesticide residues were found in these products.
The cleanest were avocados and sweet corn. Less than 1% of the samples showed the presence of any pesticides.
More than 80% of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages did not contain pesticides at all.
None of the listed product samples contained more than 4 pesticide residues.
Only 5% of the samples on the list had two or more pesticides.
What is the danger of pesticides?
Over the past two decades, many of the most toxic pesticides have been withdrawn from many agricultural uses and banned from households. Others, such as organophosphate insecticides, are still applied to some crops.
Several long-term studies of American children, begun in the 1990s, showed that exposure to organophosphate insecticides in children causes lasting damage to the brain and nervous system.
Between 2014 and 2017, scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency reviewed data showing that organophosphate pesticides affect children’s brains and behavior. They concluded that continuous use of a single pesticide (chlorpyrifos) was highly unsafe and should be banned. However, the Agency’s new administrator lifted the planned ban and announced that the substance’s safety assessment would not be completed until 2022.
A group of recent studies suggest a link between fruit and vegetable consumption with higher pesticide residues and fertility problems. A Harvard study found that men and women who reported more frequent consumption of foods high in pesticides had problems having children. At the same time, fewer fruits and vegetables with pesticides did not have negative consequences.
It takes many years and extensive resources to conduct research that will test the effects of pesticides on food and human health. Long-term studies of organophosphate pesticides on the brain and behavior of children have taken more than a decade.
How to Avoid Pesticides
Not just because some people prefer organic products. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of Washington found that people who buy organic fruits and vegetables have lower amounts of organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples.
In Russia, there may soon be a law regulating the activities of producers of organic products. Until that time, there was not a single law regulating this industry, therefore, when buying “organic” products, the consumer cannot be 100% sure that the manufacturer did not use pesticides. We hope that the bill will come into force in the near future.