Why I No Longer Pay Much Attention to EWG's Dirty Dozen™

Last Saturday my entire family was out and about doing errands in an unfamiliar part of town when we passed a farmers market. We made a note of it and on the way home stopped there for lunch and groceries. We were so glad we did.

This market was much larger than the farmers markets closer to my home that I usually frequent. While it was tougher to keep track of my kids (I was very glad my husband was with me), there was plenty to love among the aisles and aisles of vendors. In addition to tons of beautiful produce, there was honey and freshly squeezed juices, tamales and hummus, natural meats and fresh fish, flowers and potted plants, bread and pastries. There were eggs, $6 for 30 ($2.40 a dozen, about half of what I normally pay). I bought 60. When we passed a musician playing a James Taylor-esque version of "Up on the Roof," one of my 5yo's favorite songs, my son looked at me and immediately put his hand out for a dollar to put in the hat. It was like we were meant to be there.

EWG's 2013 Dirty Dozen List

The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

Every year for the past nine years, the Environmental Working Group has published their Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ 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. For the last couple years, EWG has expanded their Dirty Dozen™ list with a Plus category resulting in "The Dirty Dozen Plus™". The "Plus" refers to crops that do not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but that were commonly contaminated with exceptionally toxic pesticides. Consumers should prioritize purchasing organic versions of these vegetables as well if possible. The produce with the least residue is termed "The Clean Fifteen™."

Use the The Dirty Dozen™ to Prioritize Purchases

This guide is not intended to scare you into not buying fruits and vegetables. Any produce is better than no produce. And conventional fruit and vegetables are certainly better than processed or packaged foods. Instead, this information is intended to help families who cannot afford to purchase all organic produce limit their exposure to pesticides, especially harmful to developing fetuses and young children. You can use the guide to substitute produce from The Clean Fifteen™ for The Dirty Dozen Plus™ (for example, I might decide our family will eat more kiwi and fewer apples), or use the guide to help you decide which produce you will buy organic and which you will buy conventional (for example, I might buy organic strawberries and conventional onions). When I first started going green, I found that selectively purchasing organic produce helped a lot with the sticker shock of switching to greener foods.

10 Green Gifts for Mom

Wondering what to get mom this year?


In my opinion, the most meaningful gift for mom has always been the gift you make yourself. All I really want for mother's day is a homemade card by my children. If you have a gift-able skill (drawing, writing, sewing, knitting, carpentry, ceramics, photography, cooking, gardening, etc.), consider making mom a gift this year. If you can't make something handmade, consider buying a unique handmade gift in your community or through an online marketplace like Etsy (check out this jewelry from the EcoEtsy team).

4 Ways to Create Bacterial Super Bugs

There have been several recent news stories involving antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

A Battle Over Antibiotics In Organic Apple And Pear Farming
This story was news to me. Like many consumers of organic produce, I wasn't aware that antibiotics were ever allowed in organic agriculture. As Urvashi Rangan, the director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports put it, "This isn't what consumers expect out of organics" (source). Exactly! I have been looking askance at my apples for weeks. Happily, the National Organics Standards Board has rejected a petition to extend the exemption that allowed the use of antibiotics on organic produce. However, I wonder just how much antibiotic I have ingested over these past few years eating organic apples and pears. (Note that not all organic apples and pears are treated: the article reports that up to 16 percent of all apple acreage and up to 40 percent of all pear acreage get sprayed with antibiotics each year.)

How To Track And Attack A Superbug
In March I heard this NPR interview discussing a press conference by Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which he announced the need to "sound an alarm" on the advance of CRE, a highly drug-resistant bacteria. I learned in this interview that the antibiotics prescribed to treat many patients with superbugs have not been used for decades. That's because the antibiotics have such undesirable side effects as kidney failure. Facing death from an infection caused by a superbacteria, however, the patients are left with no other choice but to take a drug that may cause them serious harm.

Sparse crop of new antibiotics confronts 'nightmare bacteria'
And just today I read this story about a report that found that surprisingly few new antibiotics are being developed for the treatment of infections caused by an especially nasty class of superbugs, such as CRE.

I always pay special attention when antibiotics are in the news, because I once had a drug-resistant bacterial infection. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience, and definitely one I will never forget. Antibiotics are one of the great accomplishments of Western medicine, and it is a tragedy that we are squandering this precious resource through our own misuse.

Four Ways to Create Bacterial Super Bugs

Here are some ways that humans are contributing to the creation of bacterial superbugs that cannot be treated with regular antibiotics.

1. Practice hyper-cleanliness.

In our quest for hyper-cleanliness, antibacterials are added to all kinds of personal products and cleaning products where they are completely unnecessary. Hot water and soap has been shown to be just as effective in killing germs as antibacterial soaps, for example. Select carefully and use very judiciously any product labeled as a disinfectant or an antibacterial.

During the NPR interview listed above, one listener emailed in: Does the use of antibacterial soap increase the likelihood that my body won't respond properly to standard antibiotics? Guest Carl Zimmer, a science writer and blogger, responded:
Well, by doing anything that exposes bacteria, even good bacteria, to antibiotics, you're creating the opportunity for the evolution of resistance. Any genes that provide resistance are going to become more common, and mutations to those genes are going to be favored by natural selection. And the real tricky thing about bacteria is that once they've got these highly evolved resistance genes to different drugs, they trade them. They swap them around. And actually you'll have some bacteria like the bacteria we're talking about today, which have accumulated lots and lots of genes for lots of different antibiotics.

2. Use consumer products containing antibacterial pesticides.

Perhaps you have noticed the proliferation of school supplies and other products (such as crib mattresses and even underwear) containing antimicrobials or antibacterials such as Microban. What exactly is Microban? The Smart Mama explains in her post "Back to School with Microban":
Microban is a broad range of antimicrobial technologies that are designed to protect products from microbes. Microban technologies do not protect the user of the product from disease causing microorganisms (if Microban International was making such claims, it would be subject to certain regulatory requirements and would have to have proof to support the claims).
Imagine my annoyance when I discovered that the extra-fat pencils my son uses in his Kindergarten class contained Microban. Really? Do we really need to sanitize a pencil? And in what universe would this help at all with the spread of germs among 5-year-olds? I also recently ordered some Timberland sandals for my 1.5 year old. When they arrived, they sported a Microban tag. I sent them back. I kind of understand wanting to avoid odor-causing bacteria in a teenager's shoes, but in a 1-year-olds? I plan to call Timberland and ask about this gratuitous use of antimicrobials in their products, because I expect more environmental responsibility from an outdoors company. Remember, any unnecessary use of antibiotics gives bacteria the opportunity to mutate and adapt.

3. Purchase conventional meat and animal products. 

I've read different estimates, but usually the figure is around 70% to 80% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used on livestock. 30 million pounds of antibiotics are given to livestock annually. Antibiotics are used to prevent animal illness (conventional feedlot practices involve unnatural diets and conditions which promote illness) and just plain old fatten up those animals more quickly. According to a report published by the FDA's  National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, "store-bought meat tested in 2011 contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 69 percent of raw pork chops, 55 percent of raw ground beef and 39 percent of raw chicken parts" (source). I once asked a doctor relative (who is often skeptical of my green concerns) what he thought of the use of antibiotics on livestock. He immediately replied, "completely and totally irresponsible." This misuse of antibiotics is one of the top reasons I do my best to avoid and never purchase conventional meat and dairy. Read more about superbugs in supermarket meat in EWG's Meat Eater's Guide: "Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets" as well as "Tips to Help you Avoid Superbugs in Meat."

4. Ask your doctor for antibiotics for you or your child.

If you need antibiotics, your doctor will prescribe them. Even if your doctor suggests antibiotic use, ask if you can wait a few days to see if the problem resolves on its own, or consider getting a second opinion. For example, my doctor wanted to prescribe antibiotics for my child's ear infection. After consulting with a relative who is an ER pediatrician (and aware of the latest research on ear infections and antibiotics), I decided against it, at least for several more days. I did discuss that decision with my doctor, who did not oppose it. Neither my 2nd or 3rd child has ever taken antibiotics despite several ear infections (about 80 percent of all ear infections clear up on their own). I treat ear infections with pain killers, observe, and consult with my doctor. The AAP recently issued new guidelines for the treatment of ear infections. One change is that observation without antibiotics is given as an option for children over 6 months of age. I push back hard when any doctor suggests antibiotic use for me or my children. It's not that I don't believe in them, it's that I want them to work when they are really needed.

I have no doubt that we will one day reach the "post-antibiotic" world that so many public health experts are warning about. I just hope we can delay it long enough to come up with alternate means of dealing with bacterial infections before we get there.

Related Posts

What are you doing to prevent the overuse and misuse of antibiotics?

photo credit: spills pills pills via photopin (license)

Simple Inexpensive Ways to Go Green (Happy Earth Day!)

Perhaps the best way to begin (or get back on) a green path is with an easy step. Sometimes you just need an easy win to get some momentum going. Here are some simple cheap ways to go green this Earth Day.

Easy Steps for Earth Day

  1. Drink water.
  2. Go outside.
  3. Wear clothes more than once before washing (more ways to reduce laundry).
  4. Open a window instead of using air freshener (more natural alternatives to synthetic air fresheners).
  5. Cancel junk mail.
  6. Shop at a farmers market.
  7. Clean surfaces with straight or diluted vinegar (more ideas for green cleaners).
  8. Use cloth napkins (more ideas for reusable products).
  9. Use one less beauty product.
  10. Use snug fitting rather than flame retardant PJs for your kids (other easy ways to limit your family's exposure to toxic chemicals).

Share your favorite easy green step in the comments!

How to Clean the Potty

How do I clean my child's potty? Mostly, I don't.

Recently a friend sent me this email:
Hey, I've been interested in your early potty training adventures, so I ordered [my 7-month-old] a potty chair. Today I put her on it for the first time. She sat there happily, although her feet don't touch the ground so she's a bit unstable. The next time I put her on there, she peed! She did it again about an hour later! I was amazed. We shall see where this leads...

Hooray for immediate success! That's the way we like it. I'll be interested to see where it leads too. Remember that the goal is not to get the baby to pee every time in the potty, just to do her business some of the time somewhere besides the diaper.

Later my friend emailed me:
Oh yeah, how do you usually clean it [the potty] ? I'm not really looking forward to that part of the process...
So now I'll tell you how I clean the potty, for you first-time parents who've never potty trained anybody. Before reading any further, you should know that, as a general rule, I like to keep cleaning standards nice and low.

Introducing The Green Sisterhood

Green Sisterhood

Those of you who scrutinize the sidebars of my blog layout (i.e., my parents) may have noticed a certain new blog button currently in my left sidebar that reads "Green Sisterhood ~ Network Member."

Or perhaps you've clicked on one of those thumbnails under the title "Related Posts from the Green Sisterhood" at the end of each of my blog posts.

What is the Green Sisterhood?

Eco-novice Interviewed on the Green Divas Radio Show


Last Thursday I was interviewed by Green Divas Megan McWilliams and Mizar Turdiu on the Green Divas Radio Show. The green divas radio show is a weekly, one-hour internet-based radio broadcast that offers listeners information about green and sustainable living in an accessible, low-guilt, often humorous way.

During my segment, we covered topics such as:

When Shopping for Food, What Matters Most to You?

Between California's recently defeated Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO foods, and the recent so-called Monsanto Protection Act (protecting biotech companies from future litigation if it turns out that GMO seeds are dangerous), GMOs and how to avoid them have been all over the news and blogosphere during the past six months.

Which has made me realize, GMOs have never been a top issue for me.

Sure, I avoid them. I switched to organic canola oil (which I use in large quantities for bread and most high-temp cooking) when I read that almost all conventional canola oil is GMO. I know that almost all corn is GMO, so I do try to buy most things with corn as a main ingredient organic (organic products cannot contain GMOs). I would never eat a genetically engineered animal on purpose.

Of course I supported California's Proposition 37 and labeling GMOs. I would like to be the one to determine whether scientific innovations in agricultural with very short track records and questionable research are relevant to my food purchases or not. 

And, yes, I think GMOs are a bad idea. Or at the very least, an idea that doesn't have enough rigorous science behind it to merit their widespread and ever-growing creation and application.

But I've never participated in a GMO-free month or scrutinized blog posts with lists of items that might or do contain GMOs. I've never gone through my pantry to identify and toss any item that might have GMOs. Honestly, I'm not sure exactly why, but it just doesn't push my buttons the way other food issues do. I often buy conventional chips as long as the ingredient list is short (potatoes, oil, salt), knowing full well that the vegetable oil might be GMO. I guess I think I'm better off putting my money and energy into finding healthy alternatives to the chips, like a new homemade snack.

All this GMO business has made me think about what ARE my food priorities. What matters most to me when I shop for food? Where do I draw the line and when am I willing to compromise? 


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