Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 for 2012

Oh happy day!

Photo by Chris Devers via Flickr

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its annual list of the conventionally grown (i.e., not organic) vegetables and fruits that have the most and least pesticide residue on them. As The Huffington Post points out, the top of the 2012 Dirty Dozen list includes repeat offenders: “Many of the fruits and vegetables listed this year will look familiar to those who follow the yearly report—apples, celery and bell peppers once again top the list.” For example, as the EWG website notes, “98 percent of conventional apples had pesticides.”

But don’t let that put you off eating your fruits and veggies; as Huff Post puts it, “[E]ven the researchers who conducted the pesticide exposure studies don’t recommend giving up the ‘Dirty Dozen’ outright. ‘The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,’ they wrote, recommending instead that consumers purchase organic options wherever available and then choose items from the concurrent ‘Clean 15’ list that details which fruits and veggies have the lowest pesticide loads and residues.”

As Tom Philpott notes at Mother Jones, though, there are other reasons to avoid conventional produce on the Clean 15 list:

I have to add the same lament as I did last year—while I find EWG’s “dirty dozen” effort to be extremely valuable for consumers on a budget deciding which produce to buy organic, I wish it would also add a third list tracking pesticide exposure for farm workers. While I do not discount the dangers of consuming small amounts of the cocktail of pesticides found on a typical grocery-store apple, it is the people who tend and harvest farm fields who bear the most risk.

Sometimes, crops that are heavily sprayed while growing end up with very little pesticide residues on the supermarket shelf. That’s great for consumers but awful for farm workers.

In an analysis of last year’s EWG lists, Pesticide Action Network’s Karl Tupper found that the two most pesticide-intensive crops in the field are sweet potatoes and mushrooms—which both made the Clean Fifteen list both this year and last. I can’t consider a crop “clean” that exposes farm workers to pesticides at high levels—and I’m sure many consumers would feel the same way if they had access to information.

For the full articles, which feature a lot more detail (including information new to this year’s report about pesticides in baby food), head here for Philpott’s piece and here for the Huff Post entry. Finally, head to EWG’s website for both the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 (which are also available as smartphone apps), details on the research methodology, and more.

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