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Dirty Dozen - Fruits and Vegetables

Pesticide usage is one of the key elements that separates conventional farming from organic farming. Conventional farmers can use around 900 different pesticides on their crops and at least 225 of these pesticides have been found on produce. Keep in mind, just because your veggies say "organic" that doesn't mean pesticides aren't use. Organic farmers have about 25 pesticides to choose from. 

But doesn’t the EPA regulate conventional farming pesticide use if it’s really harmful for us? While there are some regulations for the pesticide creators such as listing harmful side effects and other warning labels. The EPA doesn’t actually test the pesticides themselves. Pesticides bring quite a bit of trouble with them. They are highly toxic and are a known carcinogen and even have been shown in some tests to be the cause of infertility problems. 

“There are two ways a mix of pesticides could be dangerous. The first is if they have synergistic effects — that is, the result of the two or more chemicals together is different (and worse) than the results of each individually. The second is cumulative, the long-term exposure of low doses over time.”  (Haspel, Tamar) They are also harmful for the farmer who applies them. They breathe them in, bring them in on their clothes and then while washing them their spouse comes in contact with them again. During the washing process these toxins end up in the water system. Research hasn’t even begun to touch all that pesticides do to a fetus in utero or what the combos do when combined. Studies are showing that these toxins do remain in children longer than in adults. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body”. (Consumer reports)

Organic farmers have to follow much more strict pesticide guidelines. They only have 25 pesticides to choose from and of those 25 only 2 are man-made or synthetic. Pesticides used by organic farmers are generally used very carefully and with great experience so that they make a low impact on the environment. These pesticides cannot be man-made and the few that are are just a combined mixture of naturally occurring pesticides for the most part. However, arsenic and strychnine are not allowed. USDA organic produce grown with pesticides has to comply with the rules set forth by USDA National Organic Program and then reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board, which includes farmers, handlers, scientists, USDA accredited certified agents and consumer advocates. This board decides what pesticides are used in organic farming.

Just how much of a residue is left behind though? The EWG ( Environmental Working Group) has put in a lot of time and research into this question. The numbers by comparison are 3.2 different pesticides per crop on conventional produce compared to 0.8 different pesticides on Organic produce. Some conventional crops by weight almost have twice the amount of pesticides left on them as Organic. The EWG has put a list together to make shopping easier, which they call the Dirty Dozen. Basically, it’s a list of the top twelve veggies and fruits that have the most pesticide residue on them after being washed, peeled and prepared for consumption. EWG tests every year and usually there is a small shuffle but the top few usually stay the same. Kale and spinach, which are known as superfoods and a huge craze right now have recently jumped to top positions. Here’s the list:


  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

Organic produce isn’t cheap though. In fact, it costs about 49% more to buy organic. For example, organic strawberries at the local supermarket run $3.49 per lb where conventional are $1.75/lb. Kale runs $2.49 per organic bunch and conventional $0.98. Not everyone can afford this; therefore, EWG has also put together a list called the clean fifteen so that you can know which produce has very little pesticide residue and be able to afford the organic options on the other. These fifteen fruits and veggies are some that you can buy non organic without too much worry. 


  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

Don’t stop buying produce just because you can’t afford it. Studies have shown that it is far healthier for you to consume fruits and vegetables than to not. If your budget can’t afford to completely go organic don’t beat yourself up over it and just do what you can. That is the amazing benefit of these guides- they give you freedom to choose and to be educated. 

Be sure to check out EWG’S website for other guides on other food product, house cleaning, water purification guides, etc.

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