Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pesticides and Produce: Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

We're learning more and more each day about random chemicals that have been used in and on food for a long time.  Farmers push to find the best options to grow the largest number and sized crops and chemicals, additives, fertilizers and pesticides were the answer.  At one time, no one thought that the pesticides that were sprayed on growing product would hurt anything besides pests, but come time find out, that's not true.  While the Organic Movement has bee around for over a century, it has only bee in the last 30-40 years that it has been regulated and even less time that the masses are paying attention.

So what is Organic?  Iowa State University has provided the following definition:
According to the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), organic agriculture is defined as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." (NOSB, 1997) The term "organic" is defined by law, as opposed to the labels "natural" and "eco-friendly," which may imply that some organic methods were used in the production of the foodstuff, but this label does not guarantee complete adherence to organic practices as defined by a law. Most "natural" products do not contain synthetic products, but may have been provided conventional (synthetic chemicals used in production) food or feed (as in "natural" beef). source

Keep that label trick in mind when you go shopping the next time.  You specifically want to look for the word Organic.  By law, in the US, foods labeled as organic must meet the appropriate criteria.

The Environmental Working Group, has published this year's EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides on their website.  This guide provides us with the Dirty Dozen - the top 12 produce items that we should buy organically - as well as the Clean Fifteen - the top 15 items that are OK to not buy organic.  This list may come in handy for you as it can easily identify what you might want to splurge on (the extra few cents) to buy without pesticides and chemicals and what items you can save on and buy non-organic.

There is also an awesome video from CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta where he tours a grocery store (Kroger!) and explains a little more about which produce, the costs and why its good to buy organic.  He mentions that most important thing to me which is that the pesticide levels that are measures on produce are the tested levels AFTER the foods have been power-washed.  To me, that says that my little scrub job at home isn't going to help much and I for sure want to buy any items on the dirty dozen list organically.

Looking for more info?  Check out the rest of the EWG website as well as last year's CNN Special Report: Toxic America


Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC post, thanks so much for this. It's really important for people to know where their food comes from and what really gets put into what they eat. I hope it proves helpful to others!

Jesi said...

You're so welcome Steph! I think a lot of the problem is a lack of understanding of just how much pesticides are actually on these products. What the Sanjay Gupta video explained really hit home for me... these are the post power-wash levels that are being measured and they are still high. What I am not clear on is WHAT exactly the pesticides are doing to us... where is what study? Additionally, I haven't found any data on comparable levels of pesticides between now and 100+ years ago (on non-organics) so I may have to do some more digging on this one. There is some more info from Cornell Univ here too:

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