|Spinach - a crop that is getting a bum rap (picture by Victor M. Vicente Selvas)|
(This post originally appeared on Forbes on 3/13/17)
For each of the last twenty years, an organization called the Environmental Working Group has issued what it calls a “Dirty Dozen List.” It names crops it claims to have high pesticide residues and recommends that consumers purchase organic versions of these crops. They base their list on a seriously distorted interpretation of a taxpayer-funded testing program called the PDP (Pesticide Data Program, USDA). What the PDP actually documents is that our food supply is extremely safe. EWG has repeatedly been called out for promoting this science-free list and for the counter-productive effect it is having on produce consumption by Americans. Yet, EWG persists in employing this strategy as a means of fund raising. Presumably it also serves the interests of their corporate funders in the organic food industry (see list below). Note that these are very large, processed food players with only one produce company in the list.
|The real "dirty dozen"|
In its latest campaign, EWG is singling out a few crops for added demonization – notably spinach. They highlight certain specific chemicals that were detected in spinach samples by the USDA in 2015. I have looked in detail at this same, publicly available data. It turns out that 7% of the 2015 spinach samples were organic. The very same chemicals that EWG choses to talk about were found on those organic samples. As with virtually all of the residues found on all crops, the quantities that the USDA analytical chemists found were at very low levels - well below any possible level for health concern. Still, it is ironic that the same flawed logic that EWG uses to scare consumers away from perfectly safe conventional spinach says that they should also avoid the organic alternative.
|Bagged Baby Spinach (CCO Public Domain)|
|Aphids on spinach (Image by demintedmint)|
For instance, EWG focuses on the synthetic pyrethroid insecticide, permethrin, which it calls a “Neurotoxic bug killer.” That sounds scary, but pyrethroids all have the same mode of action as the natural product called pyrethrin derived from Chrysanthemums (pyrethrin is used on organic crops). As a class the pyrethroids are only slightly toxic to mammals and are considered safe enough to be in many household, garden and pet products sold to consumers. One of the synthetic versions, Permethrin, is among the most used crop protection agents on spinach to prevent damage from caterpillar pests and infestations with aphids. These are not things we would like to find in our salads!
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