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The dark side of the EWG's Dirty Dozen

The dark side of the EWG's Dirty Dozen

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released 2012's Dirty Dozen last week, a list of the most popular foods and their total pesticide content. It's the eighth edition of the report, which helps guide budget-conscious shoppers in the organic grocery aisle.

I include the lists of both here, but what caught my eye most this year is that EWG didn't just stop with the Dirty Dozen.

It's now the Dirty Dozen Plus to accommodate green beans and leafy greens (kale, collard greens) that didn't meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria, but were found to be contaminated with highly toxic organophosphate insecticides.

It gets worse

Harmful to the nervous system, these crops have been phased out of agriculture over the past decade, reports EWG. Nonetheless, they're not banned and they still show up in our food supply.

I love the Dirty Dozen. I think it's clever marketing and it helps consumers to make better choices.

But the "dark side" of the Dirty Dozen isn't what you think. Each year, our food supply gets worse and it gets harder to communicate all the tragedies of our food chain in a way that's memorable for consumers.

The dark side is figuring out how not to overwhelm consumers with information, but still empower them to make good food choices. 

Adding "plus" to a product used to be a good thing. These days, it's a toss up, and in the case of the Dirty Dozen, it's a reminder that even though a food contains lower levels of pesticides, it can still pose a major threat to our health.

Is "plus" memorable or overwhelming in this case? I'm not sure.

The unfortunate fact is that the "plus" produce contains organophosphate insecticides, which are more harmful to those who can't yet make their own food choices. In other words: babies.

Sales of organic baby food about to rise?

Organophosphate insecticides are associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children, said EWG toxicologist Johanna Congleton. “Infants in particular should avoid exposure to these pesticides since they are more susceptible to the effects of chemical insult than adults."

This year, the USDA analyzed pesticide residues on baby food for the first time since it began the testing program in 1991. More bad news: It found the pesticide iprodione, which the Environmental Protection Agency lists as a probable human carcinogen, in baby food pear samples.

So as the news gets worse, how do you rally your consumers to smartly choose organic? One thing is for certain: Moms will likely flock to organic baby food after learning about this report.

As more bad news surfaces about our food supply, the natural industry is faced with a troubling question: Are we inundating consumers with too much information or not enough to affect their food choices?

For now, make sure to tell them about these lists:

Dirty Dozen Plus – buy these organic

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet Bell Peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries (domestic)
  12. Potatoes

Green Beans

Clean Fifteen – lowest in pesticides

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet Peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Sweet Potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms

How do you educate customers without overloading them with information about their food choices? Leave a comment.

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