Strawberries. They’re gorgeous and nutritious… the epitome of healthy food. Right?
That depends. If they’re conventionally grown, then not so much.
Americans eat around eight pounds of fresh strawberries a year. Fresh, chemical covered strawberries. We’re talking about chemicals that have been linked to cancer and reproductive damage that have been banned in other countries.
The annual Dirty Dozen™ list for 2016 just released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has revealed that strawberries were bad enough to be the first to bump apples out of the #1 spot on the list, a position they’ve held for the last five years. That’s saying something.
According to the EWG:
Testing done by the USDA in 2009 and 2014 have shown an average of 5.75 different pesticides per sample, compared to 1.74 pesticides per sample for all other produce. In addition, strawberry growers are using enormous amounts of poisonous gases — some developed for chemical warfare but now banned by the Geneva Conventions — to sterilize their fields before planting, killing every pest, weed and other living organism in the soil.
(Umm… hello? The organisms are needed to keep the plants healthy.)
EWG also stated that:
The USDA’s 2014 strawberry tests found almost ALL of the samples (98%) had residues of at least one pesticide. Approximately 40% had residues of 10 or more pesticides. The dirtiest sample had residues of 17 different pesticides. Nine samples even contained pesticides illegal for use on strawberries! Strawberry growers used 60 different pesticides in various combinations.
How bad are some of these chemicals? Some are fairly harmless (reportedly), but some have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption and neurological problems. No big deal, right? Here are some of the nastiest ones:
- Carbendazim: a hormone-disrupting fungicide that damages the male reproductive system, was detected on about 30% of the 2014 samples. The European Union has banned it because of its intense toxicity. It still baffles me that we (the U.S.) consider ourselves a super power and yet we continue to allow the poisoning of our people.
- Bifenthrin: An insecticide that California regulators have designated a possible human carcinogen and was found on more than 40% of the samples in 2014.
- Malathion: Found on more than 20% of the 2009 samples and 10% in 2014, is toxic to the nervous system and, according to the International Agency for Cancer Research, a probable human carcinogen. It is often sprayed to eradicate mosquitoes and other insects. In addition, malaoxon, a particularly toxic chemical formed when malathion breaks down, showed up on more than 10% of the 2009 samples.
Just like most produce, strawberries used to be only a seasonal treat. But now, increased pesticide use and chemically-aided growing methods have made cheap strawberries available year round. Around three-fourths of the ones sold in the US are grown in California. Nearly 300 pounds of pesticides are applied to each acre of strawberries. 300 pounds!!
If you love strawberries, buy the organic varieties or grow them organically yourself! If you can’t do either… skip them entirely. For a printable list of the Dirty Dozen™ and the Clean Fifteen™, check out EWG’s website. This is a perfect way to be strategic when your shopping!