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The Dirty Dozen: Why Buying Organic Still Matters

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Healthy Eating related image Photo: Getty Images

Moms love to talk about what life was like when they were growing up. My mom always said that she would regularly find bugs on her apples. Back then, almost all of the produce was organic.

In today’s large-scale farming system, it’s rare to find a pest on any of your produce. Farmers routinely use an assortment of chemical pesticides to protect crops from insects, rodents, bacteria and other outbreaks.

It’s a much easier system for the farmer, but these substances eventually make their way to our food supply. No more bugs on your apples means you could be ingesting a cocktail of chemicals that the U.S. and international government agencies have linked to health issues, especially in children.

“Pesticides, while designed specifically to kill certain organisms, are also associated with a host of very serious health problems in people, including neurological deficits, ADHD, endocrine system disruption and cancer,” said Andrew Weil, MD, Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, in a press release. “My advice to consumers is to whenever possible avoid exposure to pesticides, including pesticide residues on food.”

One environmental research group has been tracking the residue of pesticides on our produce for years. In the recently released seventh edition of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, apples top the list of most-contaminated items.

Environmental Working Group (EWG) annually ranks some of the most common fruits and vegetables found on grocery store shelves for their total pesticide load. EWG analysts synthesize data collected from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. The final rankings reflect the total amount of pesticides people can consume, as most samples are washed and peeled prior to testing.

The group highlighted the worst offenders with its “Dirty Dozen” list of the produce with the most pesticide residue and the cleanest conventional produce with its “Clean 15” list.

“Though buying organic is always the best choice, we know that sometimes people do not have access to that produce or cannot afford it,” EWG President Ken Cook said. “Our guide helps consumers concerned about pesticides to make better choices among conventional produce, and lets them know which fruits and vegetables they may want to buy organic.”

The list is not intended to scare people from eating fruits and veggies. The best case scenario is to buy organic whenever possible. If you don’t have access to certain organic foods at your local grocer, use the list to find the best options.

Here are the latest lists:
Dirty Dozen 2011
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries (domestic)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

Clean Fifteen 2011
1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplants
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.

Environmental Working Group

Dr. Andrew Weil

Edited by Alison Stanton

Add a Comment2 Comments

Interesting point. This list only monitors pesticide residue, so GM corn would not be part of the equation. Genetically modified organisms have had their DNA altered so they can resist bugs and other infestations. To avoid GMOs, always buy organic, food labeled non-GMO or grown your own.

June 15, 2011 - 2:12pm
EmpowHER Guest

With GMO being so common with corn, I am suprised to see it on the clean 15

June 15, 2011 - 1:42pm
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