The Dirty Dozen: As Bad As They Sound?
Concerned about pesticides?
Buying and eating healthy, sustainable food is a concern for me and, like many people, I care about what I eat and how it is produced.
Which is why I was interested to read about the 2018 Dirty Dozen. This is a list released by the US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) detailing which conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables contain the most pesticides on consumption. And although UK farming regulations might be slightly different to those Stateside, the UK has adopted similar guidelines over the last few years. In addition, a lot of UK produce is also imported, so that plays a role.
Note that the data used to create this list is from the produce tested as it is typically eaten, which means that it’s been thoroughly cleaned before analysis. It’s a fallacy to think that you can wash pesticide residue off. For example, strawberries (the worst offenders) are first rinsed in the field and then again before testing, just as they (probably) would be at home.
Here they are:
The Dirty Dozen
- Sweet Bell Peppers
Not all Bad
But it’s not all bad news. Here are the fruit and veg that are least likely to be contaminated by pesticides:
The Clean Fifteen
- Frozen Peas
- Honeydew Melon
- Cantaloupe Melon
- Broccoli (click here for a fantastic soup recipe)
But is organic really better?
But the jury is still out as to whether there are many health benefits to be gained from following an organic diet with experts arguing over results from the latest studies. In addition, the environmental impact of cultivating organic crops is often just as big as — if not greater — than conventional farming, which often have a lower yield and greater greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farmers are also allowed to use certain organic pesticides. No, I didn’t know that either.
Turns out it’s more complicated than I thought.
As is often the case there’s not necessarily any right or wrong. Ultimately it’s down to personal choice and priorities when trying to navigate your way through yet another ethical minefield.
At the moment, evidence seems to point towards that if you want to eat healthier food and to simultaneously minimise your environmental impact, you should buy local — whether it’s organic or not — and just eat more fruit and veg. Local produce is cost competitive with supermarkets, the goods will be fresher (and therefore more nutritious) and less CO2 is emitted in transportation. Besides, you’ll be promoting local businesses instead of the major corporations who are now taking over organic farming.
But if you’re on a budget or your selection is limited and you want to eat organic, the Dirty Dozen list can certainly help you focus your attention on avoiding the most contaminated fruit and veg — if that’s your aim. The country of origin on the shop shelf will help you focus on how far your food has travelled.
I’m still navigating my way.
How about you?
Where do you stand on organic vs. non-organic? Feel free to wade in on the debate…