Organic Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Organic4colorsealGIFStraight from Dr. Mercola,

this is the Organic

shoppers go to guide.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.

So why does the EPA approve such poison to be used in our food supply?  How can we protect ourselves from ingesting it? The why is up for serious debate, but here is a list to help choose what not to purchase. Whether it is on or in our food, pesticides have no place in our diet. Organic is much better and less likely to be filled with pesticides.

Updated Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides

in Produce

Your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables, as synthetic agricultural chemicals are not permissible under the USDA organic rules. That said, not all conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are subjected to the same amount of pesticide load.

And with food prices rising, many are looking for ways to buy the healthiest foods possible at the lowest cost.

One such way would be to focus on purchasing certain organic items, while “settling” for others that are conventionally-grown. To do this, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) annual Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce.2

Of the 48 different fruit and vegetable categories tested by the EWG for the 2013 guide, the following 15 fruits and vegetables had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organically:

Apples Celery Cherry tomatoes
Cucumbers Grapes Hot peppers
Nectarines (imported) Peaches Potatoes
Spinach Strawberries Sweet bell peppers
Kale Collard greens Summer squash

In contrast, the following foods were found to have the lowest residual pesticide load, making them the safest bet among conventionally grown vegetables. Note that a small amount of sweet corn and most Hawaiian papaya, although low in pesticides, are genetically engineered (GE). If you’re unsure of whether the sweet corn or papaya is GE, I’d recommend opting for organic varieties:

Asparagus Avocado Cabbage
Cantaloupe Sweet corn (non-GMO) Eggplant
Grapefruit Kiwi Mango
Mushrooms Onions Papayas (non-GMO. Most Hawaiian papaya is GMO)
Pineapple Sweet peas (frozen) Sweet potatoes

What to Look Out for in the Meat Aisle

Many people are still in the dark about the vast differences between Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and organically-raised, grass-fed or pastured meats, both in terms of contamination and nutrient content. It’s important to understand that when you raise animals in a CAFO — away from the animals’ natural environments and diets — you dramatically increase the risk of pathogenic contamination that can make you ill.

Take beef, for example. Most CAFO cows are fed grains (typically genetically engineered grains, which make matters even worse), when their natural diet is plain grass. Grain diets create a much higher level of acidity in the animal’s stomach, which E. coli bacteria need to survive. Meanwhile, E. coli contamination is actually quite rare in organic beef for this reason — the cows just aren’t susceptible to those kinds of disease-causing bacteria and viruses when they eat what they were designed to eat.

Also beware that bacterial contamination of meat-glued steak — a cost-saving scam that is far more common than you might think — is hundreds of times higher than a solid piece of steak; therefore, if you cook your steak rare, which is ordinarily the most healthful way to cook your meat, you’re at a much greater risk of contracting food poisoning.

You’d think that since the meat is being raised in ways that are known to encourage disease-causing organisms, there’d be stringent requirements on testing. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For example, there is no federal requirement for meat grinders to test their ingredients for E.coli prior to selling them. And most retailers do not test either. In August 2008, the USDA issued a guideline urging meat processors to test their ingredients before grinding. But the guideline is only optional and has been met with criticism and resistance from the meat industry.

Want Safer Meat? Buy Organic Pastured/Grass-Fed

It’s no surprise then to discover that pathogenic contamination of meat products is quite high. What’s worse, the routine use of low-dose antibiotics in CAFOs has led to a dramatic and rapidly rising presence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

According to a recent NPR report,3 data published by a joint government program4 from tests conducted on supermarket meat samples collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, reveals the presence of several disease-causing bacteria, including the super-hardy antibiotic-resistant versions of salmonella, Campylobacterand E. coli. After analyzing the data, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlighted some of the startling implications in its own report,5 aptly named “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.” The EWG points out that many of the meats tested contained “startlingly high levels” of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on:

  • 81 percent of ground turkey
  • 69 percent of pork chops
  • 55 percent of ground beef
  • 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs

One of the best ways to avoid contaminated meat is to avoid meat from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), aka “factory farms,” and buying organic, pastured or grass-fed meats instead. Growth promoters such as antibiotics are not permitted in organic animal farming, and organically-raised animals are also healthier as a result of being pastured, so overall you’re getting far “cleaner,” healthier meat.

“To be safe, consumers should treat all meat as if it may be contaminated, mainly by cooking thoroughly and using safe shopping and kitchen practices (see EWG’s downloadable Tips to Avoiding Superbugs in Meat),”6 EWG suggests.7

Beware of Pesticides in Chinese Imports, Study Warns

Another related study warns about the pesticide load found in produce imported from China. The analysis was done by Food Sentry, an American food inspection analyst. After analyzing close to 1,000 reported food violations spanning 73 countries, China was identified as having the most violations. A second study focused on the Chinese violations only, over a 15-month period. As reported by Food Navigator,8 pesticides were the number one complaint. Thirty-two pesticides were identified in Chinese fresh produce and spices, in excess of the permissible amounts. Chinese seafood was also found to be high in antibiotics and other drugs. Other chemicals found in levels exceeding allowable amounts in food included:

  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Sulfites
  • Formaldehyde
  • Coloring dyes
  • Sodium saccharine

The most concerning chemical was sodium hydroxide, aka caustic soda or lye, found in dairy. Excessive lead levels were also found in kelp and cardamom, and infant formula was found to contain excessive levels of mercury. According to Food Navigator:

“The study also found that economically motivated adulteration — the intentional adulteration of a food for economic gain — continues to be an issue in China. Examples of this included counterfeit eggs that were man-made from various substances and chemicals, synthetic shark fin, synthetic abalone and counterfeit peanut oil made from other oils.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic. All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.

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