US-based non-profit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organisation devoted to protecting both the environment, and human health. They use their funding to research things like water quality, cosmetics, and the amount and kind of pesticides and hormones used in the production of food. Every year, they publish the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, colloquially known as the “clean fifteen” and “dirty dozen”, which ranks the health and safety of certain foods based on the pesticides used in their production, and whether or not they are genetically modified organisms.
This year’s report uncovered some unsettling truths, such as the fact that nearly 70% of US produce contain traces of pesticides, with a total of 225 different pesticides appearing on the various forms of produce available. Even more worrying is the fact that the overwhelming majority of samples tested (in the 80-90% range, depending on the product) contained multiple pesticides, with some containing traces of as many as 18 different pesticides.
The 2019 report uses kale as an example of the situation, highlighting the fact that, despite the recent explosion in the popularity of kale as a healthy food, the United States Department of Agriculture has not tested it in almost ten years. Well, the EWG has, and they currently rank it as the third-dirtiest product on the market.
This year, the honour of top prize for dirtiest food went to strawberries, which had over 3 times the amount of pesticide contamination than all other products. Overall, there were 81 different pesticides used on the strawberries tested, with 99% of strawberries containing traces of at least one pesticide, and roughly one in three strawberries containing traces of ten or more pesticides. Just think about how many pesticides you would consume in a whole bushel.
Is Organic Worth The Cost?
Whether or not you think something is worth paying more for depends on what utility you will get out of it. We can’t exactly measure how much money a person might save on medical costs throughout their life if they were to stick to organic food at all times. But what we can examine is the nutritional value versus the price difference.
Apart from lacking pesticides, a meta-analysis (a combination of the results of many different studies) found that organic foods are about 25% more nutritious than their non-organic counterparts. When comparing the price of GMOs to organic produce, the average price difference is roughly 12.5%. This means that by spending 12.5% extra, you can get an extra 25% utility from the product. By that measure, organic food would definitely be considered a worthwhile investment, and not just an expensive marketing ploy.
Despite the names, the rankings go well beyond a list of 15 and 12 products, so if you want to learn more about which GMOs are not so bad, and which to beware of, check out the complete list of EWG’s GMO rankings for 2019, which goes from safest to most dangerous for consumers.