There are good reasons to eat organic and locally raised fruits and vegetables. For one, they usually taste better and are a whole lot fresher. Yet most of us can’t afford to buy all our food at the farmer’s market or natural foods store, and in many places, locally produced and organic foods are a struggle to find.
So if you can only buy a few organic fruits and vegetables – which should it be? Which single piece of produce could have the greatest impact on agriculture, the environment and your family’s health, all at once?
The data says: apples
Reason #1: The average conventionally grown apple has more pesticide residue on it than any other fruit or vegetable.
According to the Environmental Working Group‘s analysis of USDA data, pesticides showed up on 98 percent of the more than 700 apple samples tested (yes, they were washed). And it wasn’t just one pesticide either – apples from around the country, domestically grown and imported, were found to have up to 48 different kinds of pesticides on them. While less than the 69 types used on cucumbers, that’s still far more than the single pesticide found in sweet corn (shucked) or the 15 on oranges (peeled).
Reason #2: We are not quite sure what some of those pesticides do to humans or the environment.
Apples are commonly sprayed with Syngenta‘s fungicide Paraquat, a pesticide under scrutiny for a possible link to Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, apple growers in Michigan received an exemption for the last three years (and have recently applied again) for “emergency use” of the unapproved antibiotickasugamycin. While not an antibiotic currently in use by humans, data on its affects on ground water and animal reproduction and development are not known.
Additionally, several new studies question if even allowable levels of pesticides do harm to humans, particularly organophosphates – substances the USDA reports are found on 81 percent of all conventionally grown apples.
Reason #3: Farm owners and workers like to live and work in safe environments too.
Even if the pesticide residues break down and are no longer found on the apple when you purchase it, those who spray the pesticides, and their communities, are affected by the chemicals directly.
The USDA’s 2007 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) of organic apple producers found that most farms chose organic methods because they could increase their income. But many also said they grew organic apples primarily to protect the health of their families and of the community, and because many wanted to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
The problem with chemical use on farms is that someone has to apply them, and often communities nearby are hit with pesticide “drift.”