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Kale Is a Surprise on 2019’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List

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While it may still be considered a super food, kale took third place on this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. Once again, strawberries and spinach took first and second, as they did on last year’s list.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization focused on human health and the environment, has produced the report annually since 2004.

This year, more than 92% of kale samples tested had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could have up to 18 different residues, EWG found. The most frequently detected pesticide, found on about 60% of the kale samples, was Dacthal, also called DCPA. It has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a possible human carcinogen, based on animal studies.

The EWG researchers analyzed test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the report, and kale had not been tested in more than 10 years, says Nneka Leiba, MPH, director of healthy living science at EWG and a co-author of the report. “The percent of [kale] samples with residue increased from 76% to 98%,” she says, citing the difference between the testing in 2007 and in 2017, the data used for this year’s report. “The average number of residues on a single sample increased from two to more than five.”

Leiba stresses that the report should not discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables, although she does suggest people choose organic produce when possible as even washing produce does not remove all pesticides.

Other experts who viewed the report say the amount of pesticides found is not high enough to be a health hazard.

2019’s Dirty Dozen

After adding kale, this year’s list repeats all the entries on last year’s list except for sweet bell peppers, in 12th place last year. This year’s Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes
Dirty_12_2019

Dirty Dozen Plus

The researchers also call out hot peppers, which they say don’t meet their traditional ranking criteria but ”were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.” They found insecticides that are banned on some crops but still allowed for use on hot peppers: acephate, chlorpyrifos, and oxamyl. The EWG recommends buying organic hot peppers or cooking them, as the heat decreases pesticide levels.

Clean 15 List for 2019

The researchers also produce a Clean 15 list — produce least likely to have pesticide residue. Much of this year’s list also repeats last year’s. For 2019, mushrooms made the list, while mangoes dropped off. Overall, more than 70% of the fruit and vegetable samples on the Clean 15 list had no pesticide residues, the researchers found. If they did have residues, only 6% had two or more pesticide types.
  1. Avocados (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels of pesticides)
  2. Sweet corn (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels)
  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
Clean_15_2019





Study Methods, Health Concerns

For the report, researchers ranked pesticide contamination of 47 fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 40,000 samples taken by the USDA and FDA.  The researchers looked at the percent tested with detectable pesticides, the percent with two or more, average number on a single sample, average amount of pesticides found, maximum number found on a single sample, and total found on the crop.
EWG researchers point to the value of a diet low in pesticide residues, citing research such as a recent report finding that people with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had a 25% lower risk of cancers of various types than those who had the lowest intake. Another study found a link between eating foods high in pesticide residues and fertility issues.
A Toxicologist Weighs In
Carl Winter, PhD, a food toxicologist at the University of California Davis, is familiar with the EWG reports. He calls the rankings “arbitrary and of dubious value for consumers.”
When considering the risk of pesticides in food, he says, the actual amount of pesticide detected, the amount of that food eaten by a person, and the toxicity of the pesticide must all be evaluated, and he says the EWG research does not do this.
A Dietitian’s Viewpoint

“As a registered dietitian, the concept of ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ foods is concerning, unless food is truly dirty,” says Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

She reviewed the report. “The USDA, FDA, and EPA all work to develop guidelines for safe food, setting limits of additives, preservatives, and pesticides at levels that are significantly below levels that might be a concern,” she says. She cautions consumers not to fear certain produce.
The amount of pesticides used is small, she says, ”and the quantity of food we would need to eat for any potential health risk exceeds what people do [eat].”

“If you are more comfortable and can afford to, buy organic, but know it can have organic pesticide residue,” Diekman says.

Growers’ Views
Teresa Thorne is executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, an industry group representing farmers who grow both organic and conventional produce. She fears that the report will create ”unfounded and unnecessary fears.” She notes that few Americans eat enough fruits and vegetable daily as is.
The Alliance maintains a pesticide calculator on its companion site, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. According to its calculations, a child could eat 7,446 servings of kale in one day without ill effect, even if it had the highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA.
EWG Responds

While the levels on individual produce may seem low, ”the overall burden is high,” Leiba says, adding that people are also eating other foods with chemicals and pesticides. “We are talking about a synergistic effect.”

Editor’s note: Connie Diekman is on the Bayer LEAD Network, Leaders Engaged in Advancing Dialogue.
WebMD Article Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD
March 20, 2019
Sources:
Libby Mills, RDN, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Carl Winter, PhD, extension food toxicologist; vice chair, food science and technology, University of California, Davis.United States Department of Agriculture: “Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010.”United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Production and Handling Standards.”Trewavas, A. Crop Protection, September 2004.Environmental Protection Agency: “Pesticides and Food.”United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Labeling Standards,” “Organic Agriculture,” “Organic Market Overview,” “Labeling Organic Product.”Environmental Working Group: “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” “FDA Bans Three Toxic Chemicals.”Winter, C. Journal of Toxicology, May 2011.North Carolina State University: “Strawberry Disease and Their Control.”The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: “Removal of Trace Residues from Produce.”Krol, W. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, October 2000.National Potato Commission: “US Per Capita Utilization of Potatoes.”Srednicka-Tober, D. British Journal of Nutrition, March 2016.American Cancer Society: “Teflon and PFOA.”Crop Protection: “A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and the potential benefits of no-till agriculture.”Journal of Agromedicine: “Pesticide/Environmental Exposures and Parkinson’s Disease in East Texas.”PLOS: “Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans”Colorado State University: “Pesticides: Natural Isn’t Always Best.”British Journal of Nutrition: “Composition differences between organic and conventional meet; A systematic literature review and meta-analysis.”PBS: “USA to propose standard for organic seafood raised in U.S.”Food Standards Agency: “Pesticides.”Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, March 20, 2019.Nneka Leiba, MPH, director of healthy living science, Environmental Working Group.Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, director of university nutrition, Washington University in St. Louis; former president, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Carl Winter, PhD, food toxicologist, University of California, Davis.Teresa Thorne, executive director, Alliance for Food and Farming.JAMA Internal Medicine, December 2018.
www.webmd.com 

We’re Already Seeing The Health Effects Of Pesticides – Just Not Where You’d Expect

The risk of pesticides to the health of consumers is disputed but there is another group of people already seeing severe impacts.
When you bite into a strawberry or tuck into some spinach or kale you may be congratulating yourself on your healthy food choice. Most people won’t even think about the pesticides they’re likely ingesting.
A list published last week noted that almost all of the samples of strawberries from the most recent tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture contained residues of at least one pesticide, even after washing. Nearly 60 percent of the sampled kale — frequently championed as a nutritious health food — had pesticide residues.
In all, around 70 percent of produce sold in the U.S. has pesticide residues, according to the annual “Dirty Dozen” report by nonprofit group The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which lists the foods with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues. It says we may be exposed to worrying amounts of pesticides.

“Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables free of pesticides benefits health, and this is especially important for pregnant women and children,” said Carla Burns, of the EWG.

This is one of a number of recent studies about the pesticides we consume through our fresh food, which are fueling a debate about whether consumers should be worried and how they can reduce exposure.
When it comes to the impact of pesticides on consumer health, the science is far from clear.
Government health experts say we do not need to worry as the levels of pesticide exposure from food are below the levels that could pose a risk to consumers’ health. Carl K. Winter, a food toxicologist at U.C. Davis, specifically analyzed the EWG list in a 2011 study and concluded that the quantities of pesticides mean that risks to consumers were negligible and that moving to organic versions — as the EWG suggests — was unlikely to bring people any measurable health benefits.
Organic produce is farmed to strict federal standards but it is not necessarily pesticide-free — the food just tends to be free from any synthetic pesticides. Also, for many people, buying organic may be prohibitively expensive. A Consumer Reports study found on average organic food was 47 percent more expensive than conventional produce.
The EWG acknowledges that a bigger risk than pesticides, as far as consumers are concerned, is not having enough fruit and vegetables in your diet, full-stop. The same point was echoed by public health researchers.

“It’s not healthy for people to be scared of their food,” said Asa Bradman, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “There are a few articles that hint at the benefits of organic versus conventional, but at this point, the information is only limited and the benefits of eating a healthy diet and a good selection of fruit and vegetables means I would not want to discourage consumption of those foods by people.”

As science continues to seek a clearer picture on pesticides and consumer health, one thing that does seem clear is that there’s a swath of people who are much more clearly affected but tend to get ignored: The farmworkers who bring the food to our plates.

“My personal view is that the risk to consumers is low compared to the potential risk to agricultural workers,” said Bradman.

Thousands of farmworkers experience the effects of acute pesticide poisoning including headaches, nausea, shortness of breath or seizures, according to the nonprofit Farmworker Justice. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic health problems, such as infertility, neurological disorders and cancer, says the NGO, which has been documenting pesticide poisoning among workers.
spraying pesticides
One of the starkest examples came from Caldwell in Idaho. A crew of 29 farmworkers began weeding a field of onions and noticed that their clothes were getting wet, but they just assumed it was dew. What they didn’t realize — because no warning signs had been placed on the field — was that a contractor had applied three pesticides to the field during the night without notifying the farm owner.
By lunchtime, some of the workers were vomiting and had headaches and diarrhea. Twenty-two of them were hospitalized, with two in need of critical care. The farm was later fined for its failure to train employees properly and to provide proper safety information on the farm.
These incidents are sadly not uncommon, said Farmworker Justice, yet largely go unreported by national media, which focuses on the more disputed risk of pesticides to consumers.
Not only are farmworkers subjected to these risks, but their families — who live in nearby communities and attend schools neighboring the fields — face similar dangers. Pesticides can be brought into the home on clothing or through the air from neighboring farmland.
The effects are especially worrying in children working with or in close proximity to pesticides, who are particularly vulnerable, according to research. Pesticide exposure has been linked to neurological and behavioral problems in children. A 2010 study, for example, that looked specifically at children living in farming regions of California found a link between pesticide exposure and attention problems.
Farmworkers Justice has called for better and compulsory pesticide training for farmworkers, who are mostly low-income immigrants with limited formal education. It says regulators should ensure Spanish translations of pesticide labels (88 percent of farmworkers are Hispanic), buffer zones around schools and residential areas to protect families being exposed to pesticides through aerial drift, and funding to research the health effects of pesticide exposure.
Virginia Ruiz, from Farmworkers Justice, said little progress has been made on any of these requests. Although there are rules in California for small buffer zones around schools during certain hours of the day, nothing has changed at a national level. There have also been no new funding initiatives to research the health effects of pesticide exposure on people working or living near where they are used, she said.

Alex Chensheng, a professor of environmental exposure at Harvard, blames a strong farming lobby for blocking reform. It is very tough to make any significant policy progress on pesticides, he said, “If we can’t eliminate the conflict of interest, no true progress will be made.”

As well as stricter regulation and better safety measures, there is a safer solution for reducing pesticide risks to both farmworkers and consumers, say campaigners. And that solution is to encourage more farmers to shift away from using pesticides.
There are more than 14,000 certified organic farms in the U.S, according to the most recently available data, with more than 2,500 of them in California. Although organic farms still only make up 1 percent of America’s farmland acres.

“We have nominal programs to support farmers converting to organic and that should be expanded, and we should be prioritizing research on organic farming,” said Kendra Klein, a scientific advisor for environmental organization Friends of the Earth.  She doesn’t suggest all farmers need to convert to organic, but rather that the U.S. should look to move away from a pesticide-intensive system. ″We need to change the system so none of us is exposed,” she said.

HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com
By Tom Levitt, HuffPost US      03/29/2019

6 thoughts on “Kale Is a Surprise on 2019’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List

  1. What is organic pesticide residue?

    On a more broader subject, how well are organic farms regulated? Are we safe, beyond reasonable doubt, to trust the organic brand? Particularly in Oregon.

  2. Pingback: Kale Is a Surprise on 2019’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List – Running to Zen

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