Updated April 2013
I am pleased to have an ongoing association with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies that protect global and individual health. Specifically, I help EWG spread the word about one of its most valuable pieces of research - a Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The 2013 version is based on the results of pesticide tests performed on produce and collected by federal agencies from the past nine years.
Nearly all of the data used took into account how people typically wash and prepare produce - for example, apples were washed and bananas peeled before testing. The following "Dirty Dozen Plus" had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy organic versions - or to grow them organically yourself:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Hot peppers
Plus these which may contain organophosphate insecticides, which EWG characterizes as "highly toxic" and of special concern:
- Kale/collard greens
- Summer squash
Why should you care about pesticides? The EWG points out that there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can have adverse effects on health, especially during vulnerable periods such as fetal development and childhood. Here’s a video in which I address the importance of avoiding pesticides.
Also keep in mind that maintaining your family's health is not the only reason to choose organic food. Pesticide and herbicide use contaminates groundwater, ruins soil structures and promotes erosion, and may be a contributor to "colony collapse disorder," the sudden and mysterious die-off of pollinating honeybees that threatens the American food supply. Buying or growing organic food is good for the health of the planet.
At the opposite end of the contamination spectrum, check the list of Foods That You Don't Have to Buy Organic, also known as the "Clean 15."