|Image copyright Environmental Working Group.|
Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases a free, downloadable Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which includes the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15″ produce items that have the most and fewest detectable pesticide residues. Topping the "dirty" list this year are apples, followed by celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, and strawberries. This year EWG has renamed their list "Dirty Dozen Plus" to reflect the fact that two crops -- green beans and kale/greens -- don't meet the traditional criteria for the "dirty dozen" but "were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides." According to EWG, "These insecticides are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. But they are not banned and still show up on some food crops."
You can also find a list of 45 fruits and vegetables, with their pesticide rankings.
As Mother Jones columnist Tom Philpott points out, this list frames the produce according to pesticide residues consumers are likely to encounter, but doesn't address the quantity of pesticides farm workers are exposed to. As he says:
"Sometimes, crops that are heavily sprayed while growing end up with very little pesticide residues on the supermarket shelf. That's great for consumers but awful for farm workers.
In an analysis of last year's EWG lists, Pesticide Action Network's Karl Tupper found that the two most pesticide-intensive crops in the field are sweet potatoes and mushrooms—which both made the Clean Fifteen list both this year and last. I can't consider a crop "clean" that exposes farm workers to pesticides at high levels—and I'm sure many consumers would feel the same way if they had access to information."
Part of living a life that strives to do the most good and least harm means choosing foods that reflect a plant-based, local, healthy, just focus whenever possible. But, choosing organic produce 100% of the time isn’t always possible, whether it’s due to availability or budget. For those who want to support richer soil, cleaner air and water, healthier bodies, safer wildlife and other benefits, but can't go totally organic, this guide is a great tool.
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