progress! pretty proud.
(dirty dozen list goes here)
So just how many pesticides are on these baddies? Take the first one on the list – apples. 98% of the apples that were tested had traces of pesticides. Each of these had at least two different chemicals. As a category, apples were found to have 57 different pesticides. One single sample of celery had 13 different pesticides on it alone; one single sample of grapes had 14. As a category, hot peppers contained 97 different pesticides. Every single nectarine tested had traces of chemicals. (14) The EWG notes that “picking five servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day,” (7, 14) but if you were to make your five servings of fruit and vegetables from the ‘clean 15’ list (see somewhere else entirely) you will be consuming less than 2 pesticides in a day (14). the EWGs message to consumers is simple: if you are concerned about pesticides on your food but you cannot afford to buy organic all the time, think about making these ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and vegetables your organic purchases, which will minimize your pesticide exposure as much as possible.
The ‘dirty dozen’ list is often criticized for looking a little bit exaggerated, and has been accused of making these foods seem worse than they actually are in respect to contaminant levels. Critics will quickly point out that all the produce that was tested showed chemical levels within the legal allowable limits for commercial produce. They are not wrong – it’s true that all the chemicals found were at levels well within the legal limits (10). However this does not mean that the legal limits are necessarily safe. The EWG points out that while the pesticide manufacturers and produce trade groups have said that they cannot find any link between pesticides and health risks, this is in fact a statement which masks the truth. The reality is that it’s hard to find the right answers because we understand so little about these chemicals and a lot of information hasn’t become available yet. (need more sources other than the EWG own work on this one. 14)
We come into contact with the chemicals that are used in non-organic, conventionally-farmed foods in the obvious way of consuming them along with the foods that they are contaminating. There are other ways to get a chemical into the human body however, perhaps less obvious ways like drinking and breathing them (16). Pesticides, herbicides and the chemicals that are used in fertilizers can all get into water and air as well as in our food. Of the chemicals that are sprayed onto crops, what doesn’t end up on the plant comes to rest in the soil, and eventually the groundwater, or stays in the air and drifts on the breeze, often for miles and miles.
What little we do know about the chemicals that are used in conventionally- farmed foods is that they have the potential to be dangerous and that they tend to linger around for longer than we would like. It has been proven in many instances that pesticides can be found in the human body (14, need more). Chemicals can build up in the fatty tissues in our bodies and tend to remain there for years. Some chemicals are easier for your body to naturally remove than others, but there are many which are virtually impossible to be rid of. A study done at the Chinese university of Hong Kong states that dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as it’s short form DDT, can still be found in human breast milk today (16) DDT was banned from use in the US in 1972 and then banned worldwide for agricultural use soon after, but is still haunting us in present times (17). In fact, DDT wasn’t the only chemical that was found in the breast milk samples, other dioxins and organochlorines (the same chemical family that DDT comes from) were detected as well. It turns out that many chemicals that have long been prohibited for use in agricultural business are still laying low within our own bodies (16). The authors of the study say that the results show that these ‘long-gone’ chemicals are still in the food chain and are highly-persistent and not going anywhere for a long time. (Note: in some cases, it may be that the chemicals are still being used elsewhere, either in countries where they have not yet been banned for agricultural use or they are being used in other ways that are not agricultural. DDT, for example, is still being used to help control the spread of malaria in a small number of countries, so while it is no longer being used for farming, it is still present, but on a much smaller scale than it used to be. 19)