The Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods With High Pesticide Content

    Abdulaziz Sobh

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    The demand for organic products has grown exponentially in the last two decades.

    Americans spent more than 26 billion dollars on organic products in 2010 compared to only one billion in 1990.

    One of the main concerns that drive the consumption of organic foods is exposure to pesticides.

    Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes Dirty Dozen ™, a list of the 12 highest organic non-organic fruits and vegetables in pesticide residues.

    This article lists the latest Dirty Dozen foods, separates fact from fiction when it comes to pesticides, and explains simple ways to reduce exposure to pesticides.

    What is the list of dirty dozens?
    The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that focuses on educating the public on issues such as agricultural practices, the protection of natural resources and the impact of chemicals on human health.

    Since 1995, the EWG has launched Dirty Dozen a list of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residues.

    Pesticides are substances commonly used in agriculture to protect crops from the damage caused by insects, the pressure of weeds and diseases.

    To compile the list of Dirty Dozen, the EWG analyzes more than 38,000 samples taken by the USDA and the FDA to identify the worst offenders.

    The EWG uses six measures to determine pesticide contamination of the product:

    Percentage of samples analyzed with detectable pesticides
    Percentage of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
    The average amount of pesticides found in a single sample
    The average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
    The maximum amount of pesticides found in a single sample
    Total number of pesticides found in the crop
    The EWG states that this methodology "reflects the general pesticide loads of common fruits and vegetables".

    While the EWG claims that this list can help consumers avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides, some experts, including food scientists, argue that the list is scaring the public from consuming healthy foods.

    Pesticides are strictly regulated by the USDA, and recent reports indicate that the levels of pesticides found in 99.5% of conventional products are well below the recommendations established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The USDA Pesticide Data Program ensures that the food supply in the United States "is among the safest in the world" due to rigorous testing methods.

    However, many experts argue that continuous exposure to pesticides, even in small doses, can accumulate in the body over time and lead to chronic health conditions.

    In addition, there is concern that the safe limits established by the regulatory agencies do not take into account the health risks associated with the consumption of more than one pesticide at a time.

    For these reasons, the EWG created the Dirty Dozen list as a guide for people who want to limit exposure to pesticides for themselves and their families.

    The list of the 2018 Dirty Dozen Food
    According to the EWG, the following conventional fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticide residues:

    Strawberries: conventional strawberries always top the list of dirty Dozens. In 2018, the EWG found that one-third of all strawberry samples contained ten or more pesticide residues.
    Spinach: 97% of the spinach samples contained pesticide residues, including permethrin, a neurotoxic insecticide that is highly toxic to animals.
    Nectarines: The EWG detected residues in almost 94% of the nectarine samples, with a sample containing more than 15 different pesticide residues.
    Apples: The EWG detected pesticide residues in 90% of apple samples. In addition, 80% of the apples analyzed contained traces of diphenylamine, a pesticide banned in Europe.
    Grapes: Conventional grapes are a staple food on the list of dirty Dozens, with more than 96% of positive tests for pesticide residues.
    Peaches: More than 99% of the peaches tested by the EWG contained an average of four pesticide residues.
    Cherries: The EWG detected an average of five pesticide residues in cherry samples, including a pesticide called iprodione, which is banned in Europe.
    Pears: more than 50% of the pears tested by the EWG contained residues of five or more pesticides.
    Tomatoes: four pesticide residues were found in conventionally grown tomatoes. One sample contained more than 15 different pesticide residues.
    Celery: Pesticide residues were found in more than 95% of the celery samples. Up to 13 different types of pesticides were detected.
    Potatoes: Potato samples contained more pesticide residues by weight than any other crop tested. Chlorpropham, a herbicide, constituted most of the pesticides detected.
    Sweet peppers: sweet peppers contain fewer pesticide residues compared to other fruits and vegetables. However, the EWG warns that the pesticides used in sweet peppers "tend to be more toxic to human health."
    In addition to the traditional Dirty Dozen, EWG publishes a Dirty Dozen Plus list that contains 36 more fruits and vegetables that have high levels of pesticide residues, including hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, peas, and cranberries.

    Are pesticides harmful to our food supply?
    There are contradictory opinions about the safety of the use of pesticides in the products.

    Although pesticides used in crops are strictly regulated and remain well below harmful limits, there is concern about how repeated exposure to these substances affects health.

    Several studies have linked exposure to pesticides with negative effects on health, such as respiratory problems, reproductive problems, alteration of the endocrine system, neurological damage and increased risk of certain cancers.

    Children are considered to be at a higher risk of developing pesticide toxicity than adults due to their smaller size, reduced amounts of certain detoxifying enzymes and the fact that developing brains are more susceptible to neurotoxic pesticides.

    Studies have shown that children born to mothers with high exposure to pesticides exhibit mental delays of up to two years, including deficits in coordination and visual memory.

    Child exposure to pesticides has also been linked to an increased risk of developing ADHD.

    Another study found that pregnant women who lived near farmland where organophosphate, pyrethroid or carbamate pesticides were sprayed were more likely to have children diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

    In addition, it was found that farmers who applied certain pesticides to their crops had a higher frequency of obesity and colon cancer compared to the general population.

    With respect to the levels of pesticides in the body, research shows that the exchange of conventional products with organic versions significantly reduces or eliminates the urinary levels of common pesticides.

    It is clear that high levels of exposure to pesticides are associated with adverse health effects.

    However, most studies available focus on people who deal directly with pesticides on a daily basis, such as farm workers, rather than the general public.

    Do organic products contain pesticides?
    While standards for organic agriculture are different from conventional agricultural practices, organic farmers can use certain approved pesticides on their crops.

    Organic farmers rely heavily on crop rotation, protection of biological plants and hygiene practices to protect crops.

    However, organic pesticides, such as copper, rotenone, and spinosad, can be used in organic agriculture.

    25 organic pesticides are approved for organic use compared to the astonishing 900 that are currently allowed to be used in conventional crops.

    Like pesticides used in conventional agriculture, organic pesticides are strictly regulated for safety but can be harmful to health in high doses.

    For example, occupational exposure to the organic pesticide rotenone has been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease.

    Unfortunately, long-term studies that examine the risks of consuming conventional fruits and vegetables versus organic fruits and vegetables in the general population are lacking.

    If you choose organic foods for environmental reasons instead of health reasons, the research supports that organic agriculture has a lower environmental impact than conventional agriculture.

    Organic farming methods reduce carbon emissions, promote biodiversity and protect soil and groundwater.

    Should I avoid the conventional ways of a dozen dirty foods?
    Many people choose organic products in the hope of reducing their exposure to pesticides.

    More evidence from research studies is needed to determine if an organic diet is healthier than a diet that contains conventionally grown products.

    For those with the ability to buy organic versions of products with high pesticide content, the use of this practice will likely result in less overall exposure to pesticides.

    However, it must be taken into account that pesticides are not only found in fruits and vegetables.

    They are widely used in other crops, such as cereal grains, as well as in lawns, flower gardens and to control insects.

    Because pesticides are so widespread, the best way to reduce your exposure is to choose organic foods when possible and practice more sustainable garden care and insect repellent methods.

    Since organic products are often more expensive than conventional products, it can be difficult for many people.

    Do not worry if you can not buy organic versions

    Should I avoid the conventional ways of a dozen dirty foods?
    Many people choose organic products in the hope of reducing their exposure to pesticides.

    More evidence from research studies is needed to determine if an organic diet is healthier than a diet that contains conventionally grown products.

    For those with the ability to buy organic versions of products with high pesticide content, the use of this practice will likely result in less overall exposure to pesticides.

    However, it must be taken into account that pesticides are not only found in fruits and vegetables.

    They are widely used in other crops, such as cereal grains, as well as in lawns, flower gardens and to control insects.

    Because pesticides are so widespread, the best way to reduce your exposure is to choose organic foods when possible and practice more sustainable garden care and insect repellent methods.

    Since organic products are often more expensive than conventional products, it can be difficult for many people.

    Do not worry if you can not buy organic versions of Dirty Dozen.

    Eating lots of fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risk of pesticide residues in the products, and there are ways to reduce this waste.

    Ways to reduce exposure to food pesticides
    The following are simple, safe and powerful methods that you can use to reduce pesticide residues in products:

    Rub in cold water: rinsing fruits and vegetables in cold water while rubbing them with a soft brush can remove some pesticide residue.
    Sodium bicarbonate water: one study found that washing apples with a mixture of 1% sodium bicarbonate and water were more effective in removing pesticide residues than tap water alone.
    Peel fruits and vegetables: Remove the skin from Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce the dietary intake of pesticide residues.
    Whitening: in one study, bleaching the product (exposing it to boiling water, then cooling) led to a reduction of more than 50% in pesticide residue levels in all vegetable and fruit samples, except for peaches.
    Boiling: a study found that boiling strawberries significantly decreased pesticide residues, with reductions of 42.8-92.9%.
    Rinse the products with ozonated water: it has been found that ozonated water (water mixed with a type of oxygen called ozone) is particularly effective in removing pesticide residues from food.
    The use of any of the above evidence-based practices can significantly reduce pesticide residues in fresh products.

    The bottom line
    The purpose of the Dirty Dozen list is to inform consumers which fruits and vegetables have the highest amount of pesticide residues.

    While this list may be useful for those who are concerned about the use of pesticides in food, it is not yet clear how concerned they should be about ingesting pesticide residues in the first place.

    For those who wish to err on the side of caution, it is better to buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen.

    Although the impact of pesticides on health is not yet fully understood, the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables for health, whether conventional or organic, is firmly established.

    Therefore, you should not limit your consumption based solely on the use of pesticides.

     

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