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Avoiding the Dirty Dozen

Nearly ten years ago, while driving back to Seattle from a relaxing weekend at Lake Chelan, I noticed a distant hillside covered in snow. As my family and I traveled closer to the Cascade Mountains, we marveled at the beauty of the snow in the hills. Before long, however, our wonderment grew into concern. The white patina on the hillside turned out not to be snow but some sort of pesticide sprayed over the entire apple orchard. Up close, we could see that the entirety of every tree had been painted with a sickening silvery-white substance aimed at keeping the trees free of pests. Since then I have been unable to eat a non-organic apple.


Earlier this week the Environmental Work Group, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group, published its "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables with the highest amount of residual pesticides. Apples placed highest, with 98% of the apples having some type of pesticide or fungicide residue. Celery followed closely at 96% of tested samples showing contamination. In fact, one sample of celery counted 13 different pesticides; same story for strawberries.

For me, the publication of the Dirty Dozen list simply reinforces my decision to eat only organic produce. To many others, the list, which was compiled using data from numerous studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other government departments, has become a point of debate: If the residual pesticides are well below USDA standards for safety, do we really need to be concerned? Can we trust that USDA standards will keep us safe from chemical additives in our food?

Over the years I have grown to understand that the answer to these kinds of questions is both "Yes and No." Sometimes the USDA, industry lobbyists, and consumer advocacy groups get it right. Sometimes they don't. Too often the answer is "We don't have enough information."

Personally, I am not interested in a debate asking the fundamental question, "How much poison is okay for the general public to eat?" I have made my decision to avoid eating pesticides and fungicides in any amount of any variety. With this issue settled at my dinner table, the only remaining question is "Where can I get quality organic food?"


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