A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows which varieties of commercial produce are the most and the least contaminated by agricultural pesticides.
The EWG’s eighth edition of the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ contains updated information on 45 popular fruits and vegetables and their total pesticide loads dividing produce into two groups, the Dirty Dozen Plus™ and the Clean Fifteen™.
“The explosive growth in market share for organic produce in recent years testifies to a simple fact that pesticide companies and the farmers who use their products just can’t seem to grasp: people don’t like to eat food contaminated by pesticides,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “Our shopper’s guide to pesticides in produce gives consumers easy, affordable ways to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables while avoiding most of the bug killers, fungicides and other chemicals in produce and other foods.”
Researchers analyzed annual pesticide residue tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2010. The samples were first washed or peeled prior to being tested so that rankings would reflect the amounts of the crop chemicals likely present on the food when is it eaten.
Here are some of their findings:
- About 98 percent of conventional apples have detectable levels of pesticides.
- Domestic blueberries tested positive for 42 different pesticide residues.
- Seventy-eight different pesticides were found on lettuce samples.
- Every single nectarine USDA tested had measurable pesticide residues.
- As a category, grapes have more types of pesticides than any other fruit, with 64 different chemicals.
- Thirteen different pesticides were measured on a single sample each of celery and strawberries.
The researchers also found that produce like kale and collard greens were commonly contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides that are toxic to the nervous system and have been largely removed from agriculture over the past decade. They are not banned, however, and still show up on some food crops.
“Organophosphate pesticides are of special concern since they are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children,” said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults.”
For the first time, the researchers also took a look at commercially produced baby food and found that 92 percent of the pear samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, with 26 percent of samples containing five or more pesticides and 15 different pesticides on all samples.
The researchers recommend that parents opt for organic baby food varieties or prepare their own baby food using organic produce or varieties known to have the lowest pesticide levels.
Here’s a look at which fruits and vegetables make each list:
|The Dirty Dozen Plus™|
Only buy these organic.
|The Clean Fifteen™|
Commercially lowest in pesticide.
Sweet bell peppers
+ Green beans
**In order from highest to lowest pesticide content except for green beans and kale.
(buy organic if concerned about GMOs)
**In order from lowest
Among The Clean Fifteen™, 90 percent of cabbage, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant and sweet potato samples had one or no pesticides detected. Overall, no single vegetable sample had more than five different chemicals, and no single fruit sample had more than five types of pesticides detected.
The researchers also took a look at drinking water, taking 284 samples from 12 community drinking water sources. They discovered a toxic herbicide called atrazine or its metabolites in every single sample and the herbicides 2,4-D and metolachlor in more than 70 percent of the samples. Six varieties of pesticides were also found in at least half of the samples.