Pesticides Bring Problems Like the “Dirty Dozen”

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By Willow Campbell

Many synthetic pesticides used in farming can harm both the climate and your body. Some foods retain the residue of pesticides more than others, to the point where no existing product can wash them away.  

In May of this year, a study from Frontiers in Environmental Science showed that pesticides widely used in American agriculture pose a threat to organisms that are necessary for healthy soil, biodiversity and soil carbon sequestration. 

The idea of regenerative agriculture and using soil as a carbon sponge to help combat climate change is gaining momentum around the world, according to Friends of the Earth, an environmentally focused campaign organization that helped conduct the study. Their findings confirm that reducing pesticide use is a major factor in protecting soil organisms that play a critical role in soil carbon sequestration.  

As previously reported by Climate 360, farming practices that don’t use synthetic pesticides, like organic ones, are the practices helping to fight climate change the most.  

According to the Environment Working Group (EWG), nearly 70% of the non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains traces of potentially harmful pesticides like Imazalil, a fungicide that can change hormone levels, and is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a likely human carcinogen. Imazalil was detected on nearly 90% of the citrus samples tested by the EWG in 2020.  

June 13th, Boston Heights, Ohio.
Photo: Willow Campbell, Climate 360

Tests done on non-organic strawberries by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2015 and 2016 reported an average of 7.8 different pesticides per strawberry sample (compared to 2.2 pesticides per sample for all other produce tested), according to the EWG’s analysis. Non-organic spinach has more pesticide residue by weight than all other produce tested by the USDA and, according to EWG, three-fourths of these spinach samples were contaminated with a neurotoxic insecticide which the European Commission has banned for use on food crops. EWG also reports that almost 60% of kale samples sold in the U.S. have residue of the herbicide DCPA (dacthal) which the EPA considers a possible human carcinogenNon-organic apples, too, contain the residue of 4.4 different pesticides on average, including some at high concentrations.  

That’s why, every year, the EWG puts out a helpful “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” otherwise known as “The Dirty Dozen”– a list of twelve fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides in the United States. Here’s that list: 

12. Tomatoes  

11. Celery  

10. Bell and hot peppers 

9. Pears 

8. Peaches 

7. Cherries 

6. Grapes  

5. Apples 

4. Nectarines 

3. Kale, collard and mustard greens 

2. Spinach 

1. Strawberries  

In a world increasingly witnessing the effects synthetic pesticides are having on our environment and our bodies, EWG believes anything they can do to keep people informed is paramount. This list is an attempt to help consumers make informed choices about the value of buying organic, based on the exposure to pesticides they would otherwise unknowingly be eating with each bite.  

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