Conventional fruits and vegetables from all over the world are sending one common message to both consumers and fear-mongering tactics like the annual “Dirty Dozen” list: BITE ME.
If you’ve picked up a newspaper over the last 20 years, odds are you’ve come across headlines warning against items that are secretly poisoning you. Remember the headline “sunscreen causes cancer” that caused extreme outrage among scientists and dermatologists? If you read through these egregious and scientifically inaccurate stories, you’ll notice that many of them come from the same source: The Environmental Working Group (EWG). The bottom line: credible toxicologists and scientists from various fields (including nutrition) all agree that this activist group has learned how to induce public panic that causes significant harm and very little good, especially for public health.
When it comes to the EWG’s annual Dirty Dozen list and similar fearful headlines, keep in mind: the devil is in the details. For example, the Dirty Dozen list annually highlights 12 different fruits and vegetables that EWG has found to contain the highest trace levels of pesticides using annual data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Strawberries, kale and spinach regularly top the list. However, the truth is that pesticide residue on produce is well below (often 1000 times lower) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current guidelines, which experts consider to be safe for human consumption.
You may be shocked to discover that there are actually over 20 chemicals commonly used on organic produce. The actual volume of pesticides used on organic farms is not monitored by the federal government, as it is on conventional farms. According to the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy, the most commonly used organic fungicides, copper and sulfur, are applied at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre, respectively. This data is from 1971, since usage is currently not monitored on organic farms. Less toxic synthetic fungicides used in conventional agriculture are applied at a rate of about 1.6 pounds per acre. The common weed killer, glyphosate (i.e., Roundup) is applied at about 0.75 pounds per acre and has been demonstrated to be about 5,000 times less toxic than table salt.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nearly 90% of Americans don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables in their diet. Good nutrition is even more critical with COVID-19 rapidly spreading throughout the US. This makes the 2020 Dirty Dozen list and other fearful headlines more egregious and unethical than ever before, since doubling down on good nutrition has never been more important. Eating more nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables has been suggested to promote healthy immune system function. Now more than ever we all need to bite into more fruits and vegetables, in all forms, conventional and organic. It’s time for us all to take a bite out of pseudoscience fear-mongering, fundraising campaigns and embrace the numerous options we have for increasing fruit or vegetable intake, through all forms. An apple a day may actually keep the doctor away… just make sure you wash it before you bite!