Keeping Clean – Pesticides and Produce in 2016

organic-infographic-canada-654The 2016 Environmental Working Group‘s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce is out. This is the guide known as the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen, helping consumers to understand which foods contain higher and lower levels of pesticide. It was intended to help us know which foods had the highest pesticide residues, where it would be most important to buy organic, and which had less risk because of lower residues.

You’ll hear people argue that the amount of pesticide residue found on conventionally-grown produce is tiny, and within allowable limits.

But consider these tiny, cumulative elements consumed three (or more) times a day over a lifetime, combined with other environmental toxins. According to Mt Sinai Hospital,

Over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released by industry into the nation’s environment each year, including 72 million pounds of recognized carcinogens.

Of the top 20 chemicals discharged to the environment, nearly 75% are known or suspected to be toxic to the developing human brain.

Many of these chemicals are not adequately tested before release. We have no idea how these chemicals interact with each other in our bodies. What we do know is that many, if not most pesticides haveĀ neurotoxic effects, meaning they affect our brains and neurological systems – more so the vulnerable developing brains of children – and many are known or suspected carcinogens. Reason enough to be very, very picky about what we eat.

The EWG’s report had some interesting findings. Strawberries have bumped apples off the Number 1 position of the Dirty Dozen list, so be sure to buy or grow those organically.

It will come as no surprise to readers of Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire that the average potato “had more pesticides by weight than any other produce”.

The cleanest food on the EWG’s list of 48 was the avocado. Next cleanest was sweetcorn – with one large disclaimer: corn is a major genetically-modified crop.

About 80% of maize, or field corn (the unsweet corn used in processed foods like cornstarch and high fructose corn syrup, fed to animals, and used for popcorn) is GM. Maize is usually modified with Bt, a bacterium that kills caterpillars who ingest any part of the plant. It may also be genetically modified to be Roundup resistant, meaning it will have been sprayed with glyphosate. Glyphosate is under increasing scrutiny for its damaging health effects. In 2011, Monsanto began producing GMO sweetcorn, the kind humans eat. GM sweetcorn is still a small proportion of what’s on the market, and non-GM sweetcorn is low in pesticide residues. So you need only ask the farmer or market you buy it from if it is in fact genetically-modified, and don’t buy it if it is. Asking this question lets producers know you don’t want it and keeps it out of our kitchens.