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Research Reveals Which Conventional Produce Can be Safely Eaten

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: pesticides, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) The evidence is in. Eating a plant based diet is the key to health and longevity. The only question left is how to get the best value for each dollar you have to spend on fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization devoted to human and environmental health, has come up with some guidelines that may help you decide. In a recently published listing, they pointed out those fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticides that should be avoided unless they are available from known local growers, grown at home, or labeled as organic. They also identified which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables have low levels of pesticides and can be bought without too much compromise.

EWG, as the group is often known, analyzed results from 87,000 tests on 47 fruits and vegetables conducted by the USDA and FDA between 2000 and 2007. Nearly all the studies used to create their list tested produce after it had been rinsed or peeled. Contamination was measured in six different ways and crops were ranked based on a composite score from all categories.

Their Dirty Dozen showed the highest levels of contamination. Fruits topped this list, taking 7 of the 12 top slots in this dubious distinction. Nectarines had the highest percentage of samples testing positively for pesticides (97.3 percent), followed by peaches (96.7 percent) and apples (94.1 percent).

Peaches had the highest likelihood of multiple pesticides on a single sample, with 87.0 percent tested having two or more pesticide residues. They were followed by nectarines (85.3 percent) and apples (82.3 percent). Peaches and apples had the most pesticides detected on a single sample, with nine residues, followed by strawberries and imported grapes in which eight pesticides were found on a single sample of each. Peaches had the most pesticides overall, with some combination of up to 53 pesticides found on the samples tested, followed by apples with 50 pesticides and strawberries with 38.

Among the dishonored vegetables, sweet bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce, and carrots topped the list for exposing consumers to pesticides. Celery had the highest percentage of samples test positively for pesticides (94.1 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (81.5 percent) and carrots (82.3 percent). Celery was also the most likely to have multiple pesticides on a single sample (79.8 percent), followed by sweet bell peppers (62.2 percent) and kale (53.1 percent).

Sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides detected on a single sample (11 detected), followed by kale (10 detected), and lettuce and celery which both had nine detected. Sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides overall (a jaw dropping 64), followed by lettuce (57) and carrots (40).

Although they escaped classification in the Dirty Dozen, note should also be given to spinach, potatoes, and domestic grapes because of their popularity in certain segments of the population. Spinach, which ranked number 14 in highest pesticide load, is thought of as a healthy food. Health minded shoppers have loaded their carts and salad bar servings with spinach thinking they were getting a vegetable that would support their health. Yet spinach was found to have a pesticide load of 58 (with 100 being the worst). Potatoes, one of the favorites of men and children, had a pesticide load of 56 and was ranked right behind spinach at number 15. Children love to eat their way through the summer with a fist full of grapes. But domestic grapes had a pesticide load of 44. By comparison, the pesticide loads for onion, avocado and sweet corn were numbered 2 or less.

EWG also identified the Clean 15, a list of produce least likely to have pesticide residues. Vegetables on this list were onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

Over half of the tomatoes (53.1 percent), broccoli (65.2 percent), eggplant (75.4 percent), sweet pea (77.1 percent), and cabbage (82.1 percent) had no detectable pesticides in the samples. Among onions, sweet corn and asparagus, there were no detectable residues on 90 percent or more of the samples.

Multiple pesticide residues were extremely rare on any of these Clean 15 vegetables. Tomatoes had the highest likelihood of having multiple pesticide residues, with a 13.5 percent chance of having more than one pesticide. None of the samples of onions or sweet corn contained more than one pesticide.

The greatest number of pesticides detected on a single sample of any of the Clean 15 was five, compared to 11 found on sweet bell peppers, the vegetable with the most residues on a single sample.

Fruits making the Clean 15 list were avocados, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, papayas, watermelon and grapefruit. Fewer than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples had detectable pesticides, and fewer than one percent of samples had more than one pesticide residue. Although 54.5 percent of grapefruit had detectable pesticides, multiple residues were less common, with only 17.5 percent of samples containing more than one residue. Watermelon had residues on 28.1 percent of samples, and just 9.6 percent had multiple residues.

Pesticides are designed to kill

There is an endless parade of research demonstrating the toxicity of pesticides to human health and to the environment, even at doses considered "safe" by the industry and government. This research has linked pesticides to many toxic effects including nervous system disorders, cancer, hormone disruption, liver and thyroid dysfunction, and skin, eye and lung irritation.

According to EWG, "Even in the face of a growing body of evidence, pesticide manufacturers continue to defend their products, claiming that the amounts of pesticides on produce are not sufficient to elicit safety concerns. Yet, such statements are often made in the absence of actual data, since most safety tests done for regulatory agencies are not designed to discover whether low dose exposures to mixtures of pesticides and other toxic chemicals are safe, particularly during critical periods of development." Most studies are done using high doses and are designed to find only the gross, obvious toxic effects. In the absence of low dose studies, pesticide and chemical manufacturers claim safety where none has been demonstrated or proven.

Children bear the highest risk

Pesticides pose a risk to vital organ systems from conception to maturity. Exposure to pesticides during critical periods of development often has lasting negative effects that manifest throughout the lifetime. Because the metabolism, physiology and biochemistry of a child differ from those of adults, a child is often less able to metabolize and inactivate toxic chemicals and can be particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects. Pesticides that may have no harmful effect on the mother can damage the nervous system, brain, reproductive organs, and endocrine system of a fetus.

Without public outcry, the government will continue to cave to big agribusiness

The fact that the government is allowing the use of pesticides on produce does not mean it is safe to eat that produce. A look back in history shows that the government once approved the use of such damaging and deadly pesticides as DDT, chordane, dursban and others. Without public outcry these chemicals might still be in use. Despite this threat to the population, the government moves very slowly, and only when the mountain of evidence against a pesticide can no longer be ignored. Pesticide manufacturers and agribusiness groups are some of the most powerful people. They have fought the government every step of the way to overrule the pesticide laws now in place.

However, the U.S. has stringent governance of pesticides and their use compared to many other countries likely to export produce. Produce from other countries often contains higher levels of pesticides, and these pesticides are more deadly. The EWG study tested only grapes from both domestic and foreign sources. Yet, the results of that testing revealed the glaring difference in magnitude. Grapes from foreign countries carried a pesticide load of 66, compared with grapes grown in the U.S. with a pesticide load of 44. This difference exists across the range of fruits and vegetables grown in foreign countries compared to those grown domestically. Included in this difference is produce that is canned and frozen as well as produce sold fresh. It also includes produce used in processed or prepared foods from foreign countries.

Pesticide is systemic

Many people are still operating under the myth that pesticide can be washed off. It is a myth that even health oriented grocers like to exploit by selling special vegetable washes for the uninformed. This research is a clear revelation that is not the case, as the studies were done after the produce was washed and in many cases peeled.

Pesticide is taken into the plant as it photosynthesizes, and it becomes contained in every cell of the plant. No amount of soaking, scrubbing, or washing with special compounds can get it out. Once pesticide is applied, the plant and the pesticide become one.

Corporate farming methods have increased the need for pesticides

Pesticide is expensive. Growers only use pesticide when they absolutely must. The need for pesticide is so great because crops produced by the large corporate farms are grown with very little regard for soil conditions, although it is the quality of the soil that determines the quality of the plant. Poor quality plants are weak and unable to fend off pests. When one pest has attacked a crop, it is weakened even further and is less able to fight off the next pest assault. This snowball effect is why some crops have so many different pesticides used on them.

A weakened plant riddled with pests is only able to produce a poor quality fruit or vegetable. This is why most conventionally grown produce is so lacking in taste and appeal compared to organically grown produce. The hidden factor is that most conventionally grown produce is lacking in nutritional quality as well.

The best choice: Say "no" to conventionally grown produce

There is much value in this research. People on budgets can look at it and tell instantly what conventional produce can be bought without taking a big chance with their health, and they can also see which produce should be bought only when it has been grown organically, by a local grower who can be trusted or grown in one's own garden. It also underscores the need to buy only domestically grown produce or to grow your own. And it is a reminder that the consumer is ultimately king, because produce will only be grown conventionally as long as people are willing to buy it.

Yet this research is also a sad commentary on the state of the food supply. All that conventionally grown produce sitting in the stores will be eaten by someone. Out of all the produce tested, only onions and avocado showed to be truly safe. Buying any of the others when grown conventionally involves some kind of trade off between money and health, a trade off that should not have to be made.

For more information and complete list of pesticides on produce:

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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