By Marie-Evè Caplette
Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes the “dirty dozen”, a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables which contain the most pesticides. In the list from 2023, some of the foods are strawberries, spinach, apples, grapes, tomatoes… foods that many of us eat quite regularly. Should we worry about this? While the list may cause anxiety, since no one wants to eat pesticides, it actually isn’t something that you should worry about.
So who is the Environmental Working Group?
The Environmental Working Group is an American organization whose purpose is to encourage people to buy organic produce. They base their analyzes on reports from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which carries out tests to find out which pesticides are found on fruits and vegetables and in what quantity.
It is important to note that the Environmental Working Group is not impartial!
This group is…
- an activist group that doesn’t base its recommendations on science, but rather on their opinion that organic food is the only healthy choice. Interestingly, no study to date has shown that eating organic foods has a positive impact on our health.
- greatly criticized by the scientific community, since their methodology is not rigorous.
- made up of about thirty people, mostly authors, entrepreneurs, TV producers, actors, and public figures.
So what is an organic product?
The term “organic” is regulated. To be organic, a product must be grown by meeting the following criteria:
- avoid the use of chemical substances such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides
- the use of GMOs is prohibited
- alternate crops to allow the soil to regenerate
- fight pests with biological elements
Most people don’t realize that several pesticides are used for organic farming. However, pesticides used on organic farms come from natural substances and not synthetic ones. But “natural” does not mean “healthy”. Residue limits for organic pesticides are as the same as those used in conventional agriculture.
Does pesticide residue equal an increased health risk?
The “dirty dozen” list includes the fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides, without saying how much or what type of pesticide residue there is or whether the amount poses a risk to human health.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports? that there are pesticide residues on both organic and non-organic foods, at amounts ranging from 100 to 1000 times lower than the amounts that can be safely tolerated. Thus, even if these 12 fruits and vegetables had more pesticide residues than others during the analyses, these quantities are still much, much lower than the levels that would be considered harmful to our health.
For example, strawberries are the number one food on the list of “dirty” fruits and vegetables. However, strawberries don’t contain that much pesticide residue. An adult woman could eat 453 cups of strawberries a day without reaching the amount that has negative effects on our health. A child could eat 108 cups/day. It’s unlikely that anyone would eat that amount in one day!
Non-organic vegetables are not “dirty”.
The Environmental Working Group presents data in a way that scares consumers about pesticides on non-organic foods.
No matter what we choose at the grocery store, there is no need to worry about our health if we eat lots of fruits and vegetables. On the contrary! It has been proven so many times that people who eat more fruits and vegetables are healthier than those who eat less.
By labelling fruits and vegetables as “dirty”, it sure makes us less eager to buy them. It can cause anxiety about choices at the grocery store, or guilt when buying non-organic foods. And we don’t need that. Thus, instead of worrying about the amount of pesticides we eat, we should rather worry about the fact that we do not eat enough fruits and vegetables (70% of Canadians eat less than 5 servings per day). Organic or not, fruits and vegetables will always be beneficial to our health.
The best thing to do is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and to wash them before eating them.