Pesticides are chemicals used to control agricultural pests that damage crops and livestock. More than one billion tons of pesticides are used on crops in the United States every year, however less than one percent actually reaches the targeted organism. The remainder contaminates our air, soil, and water in addition to other plants and animals.
The most commonly used pesticides include: insecticides to kill insects; herbicides to kill weeds; nematocides to kill worms; rodenticides to kill rodents; and fungicides to control fungi, mold, and mildew.
Pesticides are lipid (fat) soluble and accumulate in our fatty tissues; therefore, they are a danger to human health. Many of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, immune system suppression, birth defects, damage to the nervous system, and disruption of hormones. What’s more, concentration of these chemicals increases at each step of our food chain.
According to a report from the Pesticide Action Network of North America, U.S. consumers may experience up to 70 exposures daily to residues on food from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that, even after washing, some fruits and vegetables consistently carry much higher levels of pesticide residue than others (in fact, According to the Environmental Working Group, even after washing and peeling the produce, 68 percent still had detectable levels of pesticide residues).
Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables exposes a person to a significant number of different types of pesticides, according to an Environmental Working Group report. But pesticide exposure can be reduced up to 80 percent by avoiding the “The Dirty Dozen,” either by eating other fruits and vegetables or by eating organic.
The Dirty Dozen: Apples
Sweet Bell Peppers
Kale / Collard Greens
The last thing to note is corn. Most corn crops are GMO, meaning they are grown using genetically modified seeds, so we recommend buying organic corn whenever possible. It may be hard to find, so visiting local farmers markets is a great place to start when they are in season.
Read more about GMOs
To see where other foods stack up, review the full list. Choose organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible for your health and the environment.
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