Do you know how safe your favourite fruits and veggies are? Annual best-and-worst list is meant to help consumers decide whether or not to buy organic and to limit their exposure to chemicals.
As Canadians dream of spring and devouring fresh, local produce, new research is giving us something less savoury to contemplate. This week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual list of fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticide residues.
Called the “Dirty Dozen,” the list is meant to help consumers decide whether or not to buy organic and to limit their exposure to chemicals.
Strawberries, spinach and nectarines top the naughty list. In fact, EWG found that “the most contaminated sample of strawberries had 20 different pesticides.”
Hot peppers earned an honourary spot because of concerning levels of three different types of insecticides.
"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,” EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder said in a press release. “If you can't buy organic, the Shopper's Guide will steer you to conventionally grown produce that is the lowest in pesticides."
What Lunder is referring to is EWG’s “Clean 15” – a list of produce with the least pesticides. Sweet corn, avocados and pineapples earn top spots here. Just one percent of the samples tested on these three items had any form of pesticides.
EWG bases the two lists on tests done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the non-profit organization, fruits and vegetables can still carry pesticide residues even after being washed and peeled.
Check out the full lists here:
Dirty Dozen: Strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes.
Clean 15: Sweet corn, avocados, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplant, honeydew melon, kiwis, cantaloupe, cauliflower and grapefruit.
In Canada, pesticide use is regulated by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency monitors residue limits in both domestic and imported food.
Of course, the research doesn’t come without criticism. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Toxicology about the “Dirty Dozen” list, researches concluded: “exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the 12 commodities pose negligible risks to consumers, substitution of organic forms of the 12 commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks, and the methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.”
However, not all doctors and scientists agree with this assessment.
“Even low levels of pesticide exposure can be harmful to infants, babies and young children, 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," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of environmental health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "EWG's guide can help by giving consumers easy-to-use advice when shopping for their families."