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Blueberries, prized by nutritionists for their anti-inflammatory properties, joined fiber-rich green beans in this year’s Dirty Dozen of non-organic products with the most pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group, an environmental health organization. non-profit.
In the 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, researchers analyzed data from tests on 46,569 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture. Each year, a rotating list of products is tested by USDA staff members who wash, peel or scrub fruits and vegetables as consumers would before the food is screened for 251 different pesticides.
dirty dozen 2023
2023 Dirty Dozen (from most to least contaminated)
As in 2022, strawberries and spinach continued to take the top two spots in the Dirty Dozen, followed by three greens – kale, cabbage and mustard. Next come peaches, pears, nectarines, apples, grapes, peppers and hot peppers, and cherries. Blueberries and green beans were 11th and 12th on the list.
A total of 210 pesticides were found on the 12 foods, according to the report. Kale, collard greens and mustard had the highest number of different pesticides – 103 types – followed by hot peppers and bell peppers at 101.
“Some of the USDA tests show traces of pesticides long banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Much tighter federal regulation and oversight of these chemicals is needed,” the report says.
“Pesticides are toxic by design,” said Jane Houlihan, former senior vice president of research for EWG. She did not participate in the report.
“They are intended to harm living organisms, and this inherent toxicity has health implications for children, including potential risk of hormonal dysfunction, cancer, and damage to brain and nervous system development,” Houlihan said. , who is now director of research for Healthy Babies. , Bright Futures, an organization dedicated to reducing babies’ exposure to neurotoxic chemicals.
There is good news, however. Concerned consumers can consider choosing conventionally grown vegetables and fruits from the EWG’s Clean 15, a list of crops tested for the least amount of pesticides, according to the report. Nearly 65% of the foods on the list had no detectable levels of pesticides.
2023 Clean 15
2023 Clean 15 (least to most contaminated)
Avocados topped the list of least contaminated produce of 2023 again this year, followed by sweet corn in second place. Pineapple, onions and papaya, frozen sugar snap peas, asparagus, honeydew melon, kiwi, cabbage, mushrooms, mangoes, sweet potatoes, watermelon and carrots made up the rest of the list.
Experts say being exposed to a variety of pesticide-free foods is especially important during pregnancy and throughout childhood. Developing children need the combined nutrients, but are also harder hit by contaminants such as pesticides.
“Exposure to pesticides during pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of birth defects, low birth weight, and fetal death,” noted the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Childhood exposure has been linked to problems with attention and learning, as well as cancer.”
The AAP suggests that parents and guardians consult the buyer’s guide if you are concerned about your child’s exposure to pesticides.
Houlihan, director of Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, agreed: “Any choice to reduce pesticides in food is a good choice for a child.”
Nearly 90% of blueberry and green bean samples had concerning results, according to the report.
In 2016, the last time green beans were inspected, the samples contained 51 different pesticides, according to the report. The latest round of testing revealed 84 different pest killers and 6% of the samples tested positive for acephate, an insecticide banned for use in the vegetable in 2011 by the EPA.
“A sample of non-organic green beans contained acephate at a level 500 times the limit set by the EPA,” said Alexis Temkin, an EWG toxicologist specializing in toxic chemicals and pesticides.
When last tested in 2014, blueberries contained more than 50 different pesticides. Tests in 2020 and 2021 found 54 different pesticides, roughly the same amount. Two insecticides, phosmet and malathion, were found on nearly 10% of blueberry samples, although levels have been declining over the past decade.
Acephate, phosmet and malathion are organophosphates that interfere with the normal functioning of the nervous system, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A high dose of these chemicals can cause difficulty breathing, nausea, decreased heart rate, vomiting, weakness, paralysis and seizures, the CDC said. If exposed for a prolonged period to smaller amounts, people may “feel tired or weak, irritable, depressed, or forgetful.”
Why would the levels of certain pesticides be higher today than in the past?
“We’ve seen declines in some pesticides since the early 1990s when the Food Quality Protection Act was put in place,” Temkin said. “But we are also seeing increases in other pesticides that have been replaced in their place, which may not be safer. This is why there is a push towards an overall reduction in pesticide use.
Chris Novak, president and CEO of CropLife America, an industry association, told CNN the report “deliberately misrepresents” USDA data.
“Farmers use pesticides to control insects and fungal diseases that threaten the health and safety of fruits and vegetables,” Novak said via email. “Misinformation about pesticides and various growing methods breeds hesitation and confusion, leading many consumers to forego fresh produce altogether.”
The Institute of Food Technologists, an industry association, told CNN that the focus should be on meeting legal pesticide limits established by significant scientific consensus.
“We all agree that the best-case scenario for pesticide residues would be as close to zero as possible and that there should be ongoing scientific efforts to further reduce residual pesticides,” said Bryan Hitchcock, IFT’s chief science and technology officer. .
Many fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of pesticides are essential to a balanced diet, so don’t give them up, experts say. Instead, avoid most pesticides by choosing to eat organic versions of the most contaminated crops. Although organic foods aren’t more nutritious, the majority of them contain little or no pesticide residue, Temkin said.
“If a person switches to an organic diet, pesticide levels in their urine drop rapidly,” Temkin told CNN. “We see it time and time again.”
If organic isn’t available or too expensive, “I would definitely recommend peeling and washing thoroughly with water,” Temkin says. “Stay away from detergents or other advertised items. Rinsing with water will reduce pesticide levels.
Additional guidance on product washing, provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, includes:
- Hand washing with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after preparing fresh produce.
- Rinse produce before peeling, so dirt and bacteria are not transferred from the knife to the fruit or vegetable.
- Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce like apples and melons.
- Dry the produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce any bacteria that may be present.