Earlier this month, US-based non-profit environmental organisation, Environmental Working Group, released a study stating that strawberries rank highest in pesticide residue among all fruits. Besides strawberries, The Dirty Dozen, as the report calls the 12 most contaminated fruits and veggies, includes spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, pears, cherries, grapes, celery, tomatoes, sweet bell pepper and potatoes. This year, strawberries edged over apples that have been ranked as the most contamination-concentrated five years in a row.
What makes strawberries so pest prone?
“Strawberries will always have a lot of pesticides residue because it has no protective outer peel and grows directly on the ground,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, in a statement. Despite washing, the levels of chemical residue in this pinkish-red freckled fruit remain alarmingly high. Strawberries were once a seasonal crop, but heavy use of pesticides has increased produce and stretched the growing season. Strawberries are irresistible to pests, especially soil-borne pathogens. Most pesticide comes before the crop is even planted in the form of soil fumigants.
Toxicity and the aftermath
While experts argue that pesticides in small doses might be harmless, but if they accumulate in humans, there could be health consequences. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, USA, have found that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides—widely used on fruits and vegetables, including strawberries—is related to lower intelligence scores and ADHD. According to the World Health Organization, “Toxicity from pesticide may have negative effects on reproduction, immune or nervous systems, cause cancer and lead to other problems.”
The bright-coloured, juicy strawberries are excellent sources of vitamin C, manganese, besides other vitamins and minerals. “Fruits and vegetables are important for your health,” Lunder said. “But for those on the Dirty Dozen, we recommend buying the organic versions if you want to avoid pesticides on your food. Conventionally grown fruits and veggies have very little pesticide contamination.”
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