Why You Should Always, Always, Always Buy Organic Strawberries

April 21, 2016
by Steve Holt for Thrive Market
Why You Should Always, Always, Always Buy Organic Strawberries

Perhaps no food embodies the warm days of late spring and early summer like the perfectly sweet and juicy red strawberry. Sliced over cereal, in yogurt, or just popped straight from the container, a fresh strawberry reminds us just how good seasonal food can be.

But there may be a dirty side to the beloved strawberry, especially if it was grown using conventional agriculture methods. The Environmental Working Group analyzed tests by the United States Department of Agriculture measuring pesticide residue on a variety of commonly grown fruits and vegetables, and found that strawberries contain three times the number of different pesticides (5.75 individual chemicals per sample) versus other produce (1.74 pesticides per sample).

This dubious distinction led the EWG to elevate strawberries, for the first time, to the top of its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticide residue, according to USDA research.

According to EWG Investigations Editor Bill Walker and Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder, writing in the 2016 Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce, “…strawberry growers use jaw-dropping volumes 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 thing in the soil.”

Their recommendation? Because the fruit contained particularly high levels of pesticide residue “even after they are picked, rinsed in the field, and washed before eating,” always buy strawberries that were grown organically, without chemicals.

But sadly, it’s not just strawberries. This year, the EWG analyzed 48 of the most popular produce items, ranking them from highest pesticide levels to lowest. Apples, which were bumped from their top ranking on the 2015 Dirty Dozen list, were named the second-dirtiest in 2016, followed by nectarines, peaches, celery, and grapes. Cherries, spinach, tomatoes, and sweet bell peppers round out the top 10 foods you should always purchase organically.

EWG also publishes its “Clean 15” list each year of the foods with the lowest levels of pesticide residue. For 2016, the cleanest conventionally grown food was the avocado, followed by sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, and frozen sweet peas.

The moral of the story is that, sadly, we simply can't trust that most food grown using conventional methods is clean and safe when it arrives at our tables—even those perfectly red, delectably sweet strawberries.

Photo credit: veeterzy via Unsplash

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This article is related to: Food, Non-GMO, Nutrition, Organic, Tips, News, Educational

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  • Jon Barron

    Don't organic farms also use pesticides though? It's not really truthful to claim that you should always buy organic strawberries because they're chemical free... it's just different chemicals than a conventional farmer would use, right?

  • Lattelover

    We stopped at a strawberry farm on the way home from Md. I had sweet memories of picking strawberries with my mother as a child. So we stopped and i picked a few quarts to brong home. I washed them well before serving them but we all got stomach aches after eating them. Not bacteria stomach aches. The kind you get from toxin. I gave us all coconut oil which is soothing and organic milk. But I was quite aware of what happened.

  • dvlbny

    Contrary to what most people believe, "organic" does not automatically mean "pesticide-free" or "chemical-free". Though these pesticides, if used, must be derived from natural sources, not synthetically manufactured. Also, these pesticides must be applied using equipment that has not been used to apply any synthetic materials for the past three years, and the land being planted cannot have been treated with synthetic materials for that period either. When you test synthetic chemicals for their ability to cause cancer, you find that about half of them are carcinogenic. Until recently, nobody bothered to look at natural chemicals (such as organic pesticides), because it was assumed that they posed little risk. But when the studies were done, the results were somewhat shocking: you find that about half of the natural chemicals studied are carcinogenic as well. A recent study compared the effectiveness of a rotenone-pyrethrin mixture versus a synthetic pesticide, imidan. Rotenone and pyrethrin are two common organic pesticides; imidan is considered a "soft" synthetic pesticide (i.e., designed to have a brief lifetime after application, and other traits that minimize unwanted effects). It was found that up to 7 applications of the rotenone- pyrethrin mixture were required to obtain the level of protection provided by 2 applications of imidan. It seems unlikely that 7 applications of rotenone and pyrethrin are really better for the environment than 2 applications of imidan, especially when rotenone is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life. It should be noted, however, that we don't know for certain which system is more harmful. This is because we do not look at organic pesticides the same way that we look at conventional pesticides. We don't know how long these organic pesticides persist in the environment, or the full extent of their effects. When you look at lists of pesticides allowed in organic agriculture, you find warnings such as, "Use with caution. The toxicological effects of [organic pesticide X] are largely unknown," or "Its persistence in the soil is unknown." Again, researchers haven't bothered to study the effects of organic pesticides because it is assumed that "natural" chemicals are automatically safe. *The data describing the carcinogenicity of natural and synthetic compounds are referenced in Gold, L.S., et al. (1992) _Science_ Vol. 258, pp. 261-265.