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EWG's 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce

EWG updates this their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce every year based on tests for pesticide residue conducted by the USDA and FDA.  EWG specifically highlights "The Dirty Dozen," produce likely to have a higher level of pesticide residue, which they recommend avoiding or purchasing organic. They produce with the least residue is termed "The Clean Fifteen." If you can't afford to purchase all organic produce, this guide can help you prioritize which produce to buy organic. I now shop for almost all my produce through the farmer's market and my CSA, but when I first started going green, I picked and chose what to buy organic. I felt fine about buying conventional onions and melons, but only bought organic greens, grapes, and berries. It helped with the sticker shock.

The 2012 Dirty Dozen:
  • apples
  • celery
  • sweet bell peppers
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • nectarines (imported)
  • grapes
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • cucumbers
  • blueberries (domestic)
  • potatoes

On a single sample, grapes and bell peppers had as many as 15 different pesticides detected; blueberries, strawberries, and celery each had as many as 13. Note that the Dirty Dozen are all produce with thin edible skins, whereas the Clean Fifteen tend to be fruits and vegetables with thick skins you don't eat (pineapples, avocado, onions, melons). The EWG report also specifically recommended avoiding conventional green beans and leafy greens (kale and collards) because of their high levels of organophosphates, a group of pesticides EWG calls "of special concern" which have mostly (but not entirely) been phased out.

This year, for the first time, the USDA also looked at pesticide residue in baby food. One of EWG's findings:
Disturbingly, the pesticide iprodione, which EPA has categorized as a probable human carcinogen, was detected on three baby food pear samples. Iprodione is not registered with EPA for use on pears. Its presence on this popular baby food constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
It can be tough to fork over the extra dough each and every week for organic produce. I loved this quote from Dr. Harvey Karp (in an interview with Healthy Child Healthy World) that offers an enlightening perspective on the higher cost of avoiding toxins like pesticides:
Sometimes people complain about how expensive those safer choices can be. But I encourage parents to look at it as their legacy to future generations. We live in a world where our grandparents paid for the interstate highway, major airports, telecommunications infrastructure. We inherited those things based on their investment into creating a new world. Our gift to our grandchildren is building a marketplace that will be healthier for them. Yes, it’s costing us money. And time. And it complicates our lives sometimes. But we’re paying it forward so our grandchildren will look back and say, ‘Was it really true that there were toxic chemicals in canned food and fresh fruits vegetables, and toys?’ My hope is that it will be unbelievable to them that it could ever have been so.

Further reading:
The Full List (full list as a PDF)
  • Agribusiness claims pesticide residues are safe. Are they right? 
  • Do all these pesticides mean I shouldn't eat fruits and vegetables? 
  • What if I wash and peel my fruits and vegetables?