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May. 18, 2010

Toxic Berries

by Carl Flatow

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I planted a half dozen blueberry bushes in my yard a few years ago. I’m expecting a very nice crop of berries this year. A week or two ago, I watched the bumblebees visiting each small, tight flower and biting a tiny hole in a petal to get at their nectar, but that’s a story for another day…. A story that made a splash in the media this week has me more anxious than ever for my homegrown blueberries to ripen.

I try to eat right. I know that dark fruits like blueberries are good for me and I love them. That’s why every morning I enjoy a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, with freshly ground flax seed, walnuts and blueberries. Since the season for fresh blueberries is just getting started, I’ve been using store-bought frozen blueberries. But because my own berries are not yet ready to eat, apparently, I’ve been getting a hefty daily dose of pesticides, too.

One article, about a strong link between pesticides and ADHD in children, mentioned how blueberries were high on the list of foods with the most pesticide residue. This got me to look for that list published by the Environmental Working Group’s Foodnews.org website. There, sadly, near the top of the “Dirty Dozen” (number 5 out of 50 all together) were “domestic” blueberries!

I will admit that I’m ambivalent when it comes to “Organic” products. The standards are flawed. I believe that because we vote every day with our dollars sustainably raised produce must be my choice and the organic rules don’t cover issues like that. I strongly believe that we must support our local farmers — the closer to home, the better. But the government backed Organic designation really shines in light of stories like this one.

I’m happy to eat my own, sustainably raised, locally grown, chemical-free blueberries (which are not Organic simply because I don’t pay to have them certified) for a few weeks. But, short of growing our own, how do we get the pesticide residue out of more of the dirty dozen? By buying Organic.

About Carl Flatow

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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