Going 100 Percent Organic Not Feasible?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization specializing in research and advocacy related to public health and the environment, has released its 2011 updated “Dirty Dozen” list of the 12 fruits and vegetables containing the most pesticides. Topping this year’s list? Apples. This begs the question, “Can eating an apple a day really keep the doctor away?”

The answer may lie in where you get your apples. Although the EWG’s ranking was cited as an overestimate of the risk by the Alliance for Food & Farming, a non-profit organization with the stated mission of providing a voice for farmers to communicate their commitment to food safety, consuming organically grown products can reduce the amount of pesticides that enter your body. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), long-term exposure to pesticides can lead to death or serious illness, including developmental and reproductive disorders, impaired nervous system function, and certain cancers. Further, the WHO has found children to be at higher risk from exposure than adults.

However, organically grown products are typically more expensive than conventionally grown products. If growing your own fruits and vegetables is not an option, and purchasing 100 percent of your produce in organic form is monetarily unfeasible, the EWG’s list offers a good starting point for consumers.

According to the EWG’s 2011 report, which is based on its analysis of tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the following 12 fruits and vegetables (the “Dirty Dozen”) consistently contained the highest amount of pesticides when conventionally grown, and should be consumed in organic form when possible:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens

Alternatively, according to the EWG, the following 15 fruits and vegetables (the “Clean 15″) consistently contained the least amount of pesticides, and by adhering to this list, individuals can get their recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables without incurring the expense of buying organic products in order to limit their exposure to pesticides:

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms

Underscoring the importance of the consumption of fruits and vegetables was the release of MyPlate, also in June, replacing the classic food pyramid. The USDA’s new food icon is a simple, visual cue that advises individuals to “make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” graphically shrinking the role of meats and dairy products in the national diet.

Does where you obtain your produce matter?

Outside of growing your own produce, shopping at a farmers’ market is the best way to obtain fresh, local, and seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Additionally, buying your produce at a farmers’ market boosts the local economy and decreases the amount of fossil fuels used to transport products to consumers.

Although not all products sold at a farmers' market may be organic, many vendors utilize organic agricultural production systems, such as growing produce with natural fertilizers (including compost and manure), controlling weeds naturally (including hand weeding, mulching, and rotating crops), and controlling insects with natural methods (including traps and birds).

According to the Organic Trade Association's 2011 Organic Industry Survey, use of such sustainable farming methods is becoming increasingly common, with smaller farms leading the way. In fact, according to the OTA, the organic industry grew at a rate of nearly eight percent in 2010, and organic fruits and vegetables represented nearly 40 percent of the total organic food value.

And, with the number of farmers’ markets in the United States continually increasing, finding a farmers’ market near you is easier than ever. Over the past year, according to the USDA, the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. increased by 858, or 16 percent, from 5,274 in 2009 to 6,132 in 2010. When the USDA first began tracking farmers’ markets in 1994, there were only 1,755 markets.

To find a farmers’ market near you, visit the USDA National Farmers Market Directory at http://farmersmarkets.usda.gov, which can be seared by state, county, zip code, and participation in federal nutrition assistance programs.

More information on the EWG, as well as the full list of fruits and vegetables ranked, can be found at http://www.ewg.org.

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