After a long winter of tasteless and overpriced fruit, it’s hard not to reach for that pint of strawberries as soon as they arrive in the grocery store. Even those of us who prioritize organic produce most of the time might buckle. But science says we should hold strong, and buy organic if we can. Among the “dirtiest” fruits, the USDA pesticide data program detected 54 different pesticide residues on conventional strawberries, many of which are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins. So what makes strawberries so bad?
1) They have no skin. Whether an edible skin or one that gets peeled, both provide a barrier of protection for the meat of the fruit from the penetration of pesticides and herbicides. Because strawberries have no skin at all, the juicy sweet inside (which is also the outside) is more susceptible to contamination throughout by chemical sprays.
2) They’re an easy meal for pests like insects, birds and even fungi. The absence of skin paired with tender fruit growing low to the ground makes strawberries (and most other berries – blackberries, raspberries) as desirable to farm pests as they are to us! In turn, strawberries are among the most heavily treated fruits with chemical sprays.
3) Controversial and toxic soil fumigants used religiously by California strawberry growers (providing 88% of the US supply) to kill soil pathogens are detrimental to the environment and have negative health impact on local residents who are exposed over time.
While there are regulations on pesticide and herbicide use in place to protect humans, that doesn’t change the fact that these are chemical agents designed to KILL living organisms. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) – publisher of the annual Dirty Dozen list – pesticide use monitoring programs and research on human safety are severely lacking. Infants and children are at especially high risk from exposure. Multiple studies have shown learning and memory deficits in children born to mothers exposed to certain insecticides (organophosphates) during pregnancy. Other research shows an elevated risk of ADHD for infants and children exposed to normal levels of these insecticides.
So think twice before you reach for the cheaper conventional strawberries at the store this month. Don’t be fool to the “farmer’s market effect” either. Not all produce sold there is organic or clean. Ask the farmer if they spray and with what. Get an idea if they use natural or organic practices, or if they’re certified organic.