Close to 75 percent of non-organic fresh produce sold in the U.S. contains residues of potentially harmful pesticides.
Blueberries have joined fiber-rich green beans in this year’s Dirty Dozen nonorganic produce with the most pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization.
Geen beans even tested positive for a neurotoxic insecticide called acephate that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already banned.
“They actually took action on acephate for green beans [more than] a decade ago. Yet this most recent round of testing still shows that there are levels above that EPA limit for acephate on green beans, which sort of highlights this broken regulatory system around pesticide use,” EWG toxicologist Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., told EcoWatch.
In the 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, researchers analyzed testing data on 46,569 samples of 46 fruits and vegetables conducted by the US Department of Agriculture.
Each year, a rotating list of produce is tested by USDA staffers who wash, peel or scrub fruits and vegetables as consumers would before the food is examined for 251 different pesticides, according to WTVR.com.
The “Dirty Dozen” list
This year’s round of tests uncovered 251 different pesticides on almost 75 percent of non-organic, fresh produce sold in the U.S. The worst offenders — rated by the percent of samples with two or more pesticides, the average number of pesticides per sample, the average parts per million of pesticides found per sample, the most pesticides found in one sample of the product, or the total number of pesticides across all samples — make up the Dirty Dozen. The list includes the following:
- Kale, collard, and mustard greens
- Bell and hot peppers
- Green beans
The EWG said 90% of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and grapes tested positive for residue of two or more pesticides, according to Scripps News.
The “Clean 15” Group
The Clean Fifteen list recommends 15 conventional fruits and vegetables least likely to contain pesticides. Indeed, nearly 65 percent of the samples of the 15 fruits and vegetables had no detectable pesticide residues at all. The report listed the following “Clean 15” as having the fewest detected pesticides:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas (frozen)
- Honeydew melon
- Sweet Potatoes
Why does any of this matter?
With the exception of the high levels of acephate on some green beans, most of the pesticide residues found on fruits and vegetables were below safety thresholds set by the EPA, so why should we be concerned about consuming them?
“The reason we’re concerned about consuming pesticides is that these sorts of exposures to chronic low levels of these mixtures of pesticides have been associated with adverse health effects,” Temkin told EcoWatch.
Those health effects include cancer risk, Type 2 diabetes, reproductive problems, and neurotoxicity in children. Indeed, children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure.
The National Academies of Sciences first warned about children’s exposure to pesticides three decades ago, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to parents.