You may have seen the “Dirty Dozen” list promoted on various media and news outlets in the past and wondered: how important is this? Should I follow it?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a United States-based environmental advocacy organization. The organization aims to “empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment” through research and education. EWG releases its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists annually to rank popular fruits and vegetables according to their pesticide content.
But is the Environmental Working Group credible?
Environmental Working Group Credibility
In the past, experts have questioned some research methods used by the Environmental Working Group. To create the Dirty Dozen list, EWG analyzes samples of fruits and vegetables taken by the USDA and FDA.
To determine which foods make the list, four indicators are used to measure pesticide content. Recently, researchers have suggested that EWG’s process does not follow established scientific standards. The purpose of this list is to encourage consumers to swap out the conventional version of these twelve foods with their organic version. Yet, there is little evidence to support that this swap results in any health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits of Organic Food
Pesticide exposure from produce
Choosing organic produce reduces our exposure to synthetic pesticide residues found in conventional agriculture. Choosing organic has also been found to lessen our overall exposure to pesticides. Remember that certain pesticides are still allowed in organic agriculture, so organic doesn’t mean “pesticide-free”.
This sounds like an obvious choice, but does less pesticide exposure actually mean anything for our health? This is a hard thing for researchers to assess because people who choose organic food also tend to lead healthier lifestyles, according to this study done in the European Union. Currently, the research is not strong enough to claim that the pesticides found in conventional agriculture pose any safety or health risks.
Also, there are many studies that show the level of pesticides found in food is generally safe for consumption.
Allergies and obesity
Some studies have suggested the potential benefits of choosing organic, including a decreased risk of developing allergies and obesity. However, current research is also not strong enough to support this link.
Differences in the nutritional content of organic and conventional produce are very small. Most vitamins and minerals are found in similar concentrations with a few minor exceptions that are usually not consistent across multiple studies. These small differences are irrelevant for healthy individuals.
So is organic produce healthier than conventional? The jury is still out on this one. At this point, there is not enough evidence to support the notion that organic produce is superior to conventional.
Pesticide Regulations in Canada & the United States
Pesticide use is highly regulated in Canada and the United States.
In Canada, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency establishes science-based standards for pesticide use. Maximum pesticide residue limits are monitored to ensure that Canadians have access to safe produce.
Similarly, the United States Environmental Protection Agency uses an extensive risk assessment process to determine appropriate pesticide safety standards.
Because these policies are in place, you can be sure that the produce available at your store is safe based on the latest available scientific evidence.
If you’re still concerned about pesticides, here are some tips to reduce your exposure:
- Scrub fresh produce under running water.
- Remove outer leaves of leafy vegetables.
- Peel produce where possible.
- Grow your own fresh produce at home!
The Verdict on the Dirty Dozen List
The Environmental Working Group’s credibility and its yearly Dirty Dozen list have been the subject of skepticism from experts in the past. Although we can’t be sure of whether there are any health advantages to consuming organic, one thing we can be sure of is the clear benefits of including more fruits and vegetables.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to improved blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, prevention of certain types of cancer, and improved blood sugar control.
North Americans often don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in their diets. There are many reasons for this including high cost, limited access, and perceived lack of time.
The Dirty Dozen list has the potential to introduce an extra layer of guilt and shame for choosing to buy conventional produce. Shame about not getting organic produce can further decrease the likelihood that we will get enough vegetables and fruit.
So what’s the verdict? Choosing organic produce is a personal choice, but it is not an evidence-based rule for health. You should make an informed decision based on a complete look at the evidence, not based on fear-mongering or incomplete information. Whether organic or not, fruits and vegetables provide a variety of important and healthful nutrients to your diet.
What do you think about the credibility of the Environmental Working Group and their Dirty Dozen List? Do you follow it? Let us know in the comments!
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Edible IQ urges you to seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. Edible IQ advises you to never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Website.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or local emergency service immediately. Edible IQ does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the website. Edible IQ does not guarantee the accuracy of information on the Website and reliance on any information provided by Edible IQ is solely at your own risk.