WHERE'S OUR DIRTY DOZEN?
By Josie Taylor
I’m passionate about organic produce. As a cook, I reckon I get great flavour from organic veg. As a student of nutrition, I see it as a more nutritionally dense option. And, as a member of Gen ‘what-the-f*ck-are-we-going-to-do-about-the-planet?’ I see organic farming practices as a more sustainable. But I get it, we in live the real world and it’s not always possible to buy organic. Which is why, for Organic September 2015, I thought I’d use my food fiddling powers to create a visual guide to exactly where we can smartly spend our organic pennies.
I was first introduced to ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’ during my studies at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Each year, U.S. non-profit The Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s releases two annual lists containing the produce found to contain the highest and lowest pesticide residues that year. You’ll often see these lists name checked by high-profile health bloggers as a useful shopping resource. So, for example, I might use it to discern that I can buy conventional avocados (low residue) but make a point of investing in a bunch of organic celery (high residue). Nifty, right?
But when a major newspaper became interested the story, I was forced to dig a little deeper into the topsoil and ask “are the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists really relevant to shoppers in the U.K?”
Um… not really, says Natasha Collins-Daniel from The Soil Association.
“The Dirty Dozen doesn’t apply in the UK because the US pesticide regulations are totally different. They use a number of pesticides that are banned here, and have a very different farming landscape including GM crops.”
So where can we U.K. citizens go for information about the pesticide residues in our food? Two good resources I found —although smaller scale than EWG —were the Pesticide Action Network, (PAN) the Pesticides Residue Committee (PRC). Each year, the PRC takes fruit and vegetables samples from a variety of retail and non-retail sources and tests them for residues. In 2014, 2960 samples were collected. Of those samples, 63% of fruits and vegetables were shown to have some residue. However, the results can be limited, explains Nick Mole from PAN:
“Tests here are completed by the Pesticides Residue Committee annually, but there’s a limited budget and it’s very expensive to test... Items they suspect could have a higher residue are more likely to be tested, which is not to say that other things don’t have residue.”
So armed with the PRC readings from 2012-2014 — and a creeping awareness that the major newspaper’s interest in my quick-and-easy-money-saving article was drifting steadily out to sea —I took to the living room floor with some beautiful organic produce and a camera. Here’s the result.
If eating organic is important to you, then look for the Soil Association’s certification when you buy any of this produce in the U.K.
If it isn’t, then keep eating vegetables. I’m not here to turn cucumbers into the bogeyman.
Fruits & Vegetables Featured in Image
Grapes- consistently high readings 2012 -2014
Pears – consistently high readings 2012 -2014
Apples - consistently high readings 2012 -2014
Raspberries – High readings 2012-13, slight improvement in 2014
Strawberries – High readings when tested in 2013
Cherries- High readings when tested in 2013
Peaches & Nectarines - High readings when tested in 2013
Apricots - High readings when tested in 2013
Bananas – High reading 2012
Oranges – 100 % samples had residue from multiple sources in 2014
Limes and Lemons – Very high % in 2014
Spinach – High reading when measured 2014
Pre-packed salad leaves – Very high percentage 2012-14
Fresh herbs – High readings 2012 and 2014
Kale and spring greens – High reading when tested in 2014
Cucumber High reading when tested in 2014
Garlic Quite high reading when tested in 2014 (66%)
Carrots Quite high reading when tested in 2014 (60%)
Peppers (peripheral in image) Consistently 45-55% with residue