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Don’t Worry So Much About Pesticides in Your Food. Really?

Don’t Worry So Much About Pesticides in Your Food. Really?

For years, along with the dog-eared crayon drawings and the adopted magnets from long-forgotten local businesses, I had an old and worn magazine clipping on my fridge that listed the “dirty dozen.” This was not a reference to the Lee Marvin film of the same name, no, this was a list of some of the most pesticide-laden, conventionally grown fruits and vegetables available. Essentially the things you should avoid unless grown organically or clearly without chemicals: things like apples, strawberries, celery and bell peppers. The presumption was that if you ate these items with any regularity you were effectively pouring a bottle of Round Up down your throat. And, as was evidenced by trips to other people’s kitchens, I know I was not alone (neurotic maybe, but not alone).

So for years I avoided these conventionally grown items as much as humanly possible and veered toward the “clean” produce and the organic options thinking that I was doing myself, and my family, a huge favor that would pay off in the long run with a clean bill of health for years to come. But last year came a study from the University of California, Davis that claimed that swapping organics for conventional produce wouldn’t make people any healthier. The authors of the study stated, “Our findings do not indicate that substituting organic forms of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ commodities for conventional forms will lead to any measurable consumer health benefit.” Now, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit health advocacy organization, are somewhat backing up the claims made last year by the Davis researchers and stating in their annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce that we should be somewhat concerned about the pesticide levels in fruits and veggies, but not so concerned that we avoid them. Huh?

This guide, which has long been a sort of benchmark for safe produce consumption, is using US Department of Agriculture database to arrive at these conclusions. The general conclusion was, while there were “trace” amounts of pesticide residue found in things like conventionally grown apples and grapes, it was not enough to cause concern. It is true that nearly all produce (even organically grown!) contains some level of pesticide residue, but it is exceedingly difficult to view these government standards as anything but exceptionally lenient. The EWG is still advising consumers to purchase organic fruits and veggies when available, but they refrain from putting the emphasis on it, as they did in years past when they claimed consumers could reduce pesticide exposure by 80 percent if they avoided conventionally grown products on the “dirty dozen” list. Now their claims have been sufficiently watered down.

What to think? To be clear, while a single apple may not hold enough pesticide or fertilizer residue to cause immediate harm, it is the cumulative effect of eating conventional produce day after day that is the cause for concern. Can you trust government standards for food safety? Do you avoid nearly everything on the “dirty dozen” list? Are there conventionally grown produce items that you are not all that concerned about?

The “Dirty Dozen” is Now the Dirty 14
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Read more: Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, Raw, Vegetarian, , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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11:28AM PST on Feb 1, 2013

Umm I don't believe this. Disease is increasing and when several other populations of the world start using pesticides and grow inorganically, diseases increase in their populations. Also, buying organic prevents you from ingesting GMOs.

The reason why organics cost more is because farmers have to pay a price to have the produce listed as organic by the government and they lose their farming subsudies. They also don't get the tax breaks conventional farmers get. The price for organic produce is the real price of the food. I guess if it wasn't for the government, most people would starve.

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

I trust my balcony grown veggies and herbs the most! Not one smidgen of toxin on any of these!

10:32AM PDT on Jul 29, 2012

Between toxic chemicals & GMO foods, we all are doomed.

7:11PM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

the question is, is it better to eat conventionally grown produce, or no produce at all? cause it's really really hard to find organic fruits and veggies in my city. and while I'm worried about the pesticides, I still feel like eating the conventionally grown is better than not eating any at all.

5:26PM PDT on Jul 5, 2012


5:44AM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

I guess it would seem that it's not going to be in the near future that organic becomes mainstream :(

10:25AM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

It is sad, that our USDA in the interest of greed has sided with the companies that make these products. They have not lived up to their promises in any way. The yields are not higher, the use of product is not lower, the cost is outrageous and the damage to living organisms is huge. They are very much trying to deny any damage in any way, and that the only reason they have to make a profit is to do more research. Ok so wrong, as the stockholders, don't care how or why the profit is made as long as it is.

It is dangerous for our health to eat toxic chemicals. We are not stupid, we are not ignorant of what poison does to us. Why do our government agencies think we are? Well for one, most people in the US are still buying all the GMO products, they are still supporting those who are raping our economic system and burying us in debt from health care. People are still running to Wal-Mart to buy the latest "All Natural" product from other countries that has no oversight, they are still buying the meat there even knowing the quality is the worst available. People are still running out to various fast food joints overpaying for burgers and fries that have been tested and proven to not contain 100% real beef, or even just a slice of potato. It is processed food, that has so many ingredients that you really can't even qualify it as beef and potato.

So until we all and I mean ALL stand up and speak with our dollars, there will be no change. I have listened to many

5:55AM PDT on Jul 2, 2012


9:47PM PDT on Jun 30, 2012

Don't worry about pesticides, yeah cause you're DEAD

9:11PM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

It's hard buying organic, it's pretty expensive here

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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