Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune writes about peaches, pesticides, and best practices:
Preliminary 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture tests obtained by the Chicago Tribune show that more than 50 pesticide compounds showed up on domestic and imported peaches headed for U.S. stores. Five of the compounds exceeded the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and six of the pesticide compounds present are not approved for use on peaches in the United States.
These are the types of findings that have landed peaches on one environmental group’s “Dirty Dozen” list — 12 fruits and vegetables that retain the highest levels of pesticide residues — and give many consumers pause as they shop grocery aisles. It seems that peaches’ delicate constitutions, fuzzy skins and susceptibility to mold and pests cause them to both need and retain pesticides at impressive rates.
To get some hard facts and new insights, the Tribune paid for lab tests on California organic peaches bought here and local farmers market peaches from Illinois and Michigan.
The newspaper sent these samples to the same federal lab where the USDA does its pesticide testing and found promising results. Of the 50 compounds the Tribune had tested for, one showed up on the organic peaches and three or fewer pesticides were detected on the Michigan and Illinois peaches.
This factoid disturbed me:
More surprising, however, was the presence of the unapproved pesticide fludioxonil on the organic peaches from California. According to Shane, the pesticide is often used on conventional peaches postharvest to slow rot and extend shelf life.
University of Illinois entomologist and extension specialist Rick Weinzierl suggested that the unapproved pesticide could have come from drift or cross-contamination at processing facilities. “But there is always the chance that a farmer is not doing what he is saying,” he added.
Rayne Pegg of the USDA’s agriculture marketing service confirmed that fludioxonil is not an approved compound for organic farming but added, “as long as the concentrations don’t exceed 5 percent of EPA tolerances, it can be sold as organic.” In fact, the USDA allows such levels of any legal pesticide to be present on organic produce. In the wake of recent allegations about slipping standards in the USDA’s National Organic Program, Congress has widened a probe into the NOP and recently USDA announced an independent audit of the program. The organic world was further rocked last month by a controversial British review of nutrient studies that challenged the nutritional benefits of organic produce.
Exactly why we should be paying attention to the Food Safety Enhancement legislation – organic produce shouldn’t have pesticide on it, that defeats the whole purpose of being organic. The testing should be rigorous as well, most of the items labeled organic in the supermarket have never been tested by a federal scientist.
As to Ms. Eng’s last point, not many people who choose to purchase organic produce do so believing they are buying extra nutrients, we buy organic foods so as to avoid ingesting toxic chemicals1
According to the Environmental Working Group, there are twelve kinds of produce (PDF) that contain the most pesticides. They call them The Dirty Dozen, and suggest avoiding non-organic versions of these as much as possible. There’s even an iPhone app that lists the Dirty Dozen, and the Clean Fifteen.
What are the Dirty Dozen? In reverse order (the items with the most pesticide residue first):
peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported)2, carrots, pears. The list of 47 fruit and veggies is here check it out. Avocado, for instance, has one of the lowest pesticide loads – so there’s no need to purchase organic avocados.Footnotes: