Dirty Dozen food list unfair to farmers

The “dirty dozen” is just as safe and nutritious as their organic counterparts.
By American Federation Farm Bureau,

As many of you may have seen last week in the news there seems to be this misconception surrounding the “dirty dozen” (the 12 fruits and vegetable considered by some to contain the highest levels of pesticide residue) and pesticide usage on fresh fruits and vegetables. Let me assure you that conventional growing methods produce fruits and vegetables that are as safe, if not safer, and as nutritious, and wholesome as those produced otherwise.

Per the Florida Department of Agriculture, domestic produce are “tested for as many as 150 different chemical residues. Approximately 50 percent of the food samples analyzed did not contain ANY detectable pesticide residues. The majority of detected residues are below established tolerances and guidelines” set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our methods of testing have gotten so sophisticated that we are able to test to limits as small as parts per billion (ppb). To put that into perspective that’s 1 drop of chemical to 13, 209 gallons of water or 1 second in 31.7 years, and if residue is detected at all, even ppb, it is considered “trace” amounts.

To fully understand the conventional methods of growing, one needs to understand the chemicals in use today. The chemicals used today are far more superior to those of even 5 to 10 years ago. They are much more efficient, environmentally friendly, safer for human handling, and are very insect/target-specific, thus minimizing the amount of chemical required. For example, a chemical commonly used in conventional growing today is Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt). Bt’s are soil-dwelling bacterium, commonly used in chemicals and are considered environmentally friendly and human and wildlife safe(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis).

A number of the chemicals used in conventional growing today are certified as organic chemicals as well. There are two terms very familiar to all farmers, both conventional and organic: Re-entry Interval (REI) and Pre-harvest Interval (PHI).

Re-entry Interval is defined to be the amount of time from when the chemical is applied to when workers are able to re-enter the field to continue work. This allotted time is determined to ensure the complete safety of the worker. Pre-harvest interval is the amount of time from when the chemical is applied to when the product is legally able to be harvested and consumed. This time period is to ensure the safety of the consumer. Once the PHI has expired the product is safe to consume.

Many of the products used today have re-entry intervals of a couple hours and pre-harvest intervals of zero (0) to one (1) day; this as the result of engineering very short half-life chemicals making them safer and more environmentally friendly. These time periods are determined through extensive tests ensuring the safe handling and consumption of the produce as determined by the EPA and the manufacturer. The factors that determine the longevity of the chemical are driven mainly by UV light and weather. The hotter the day, the higher the UV intensity, the quicker the structure of the chemical is broken down or in the case of precipitation, the more rain the chemical is exposed to the quicker the chemical is broken down.

Rest assured, however, all factors are taken into consideration, in additional to a safety buffer, by the EPA and the manufacturer to ensure the safeness of the domestic food supply. As mentioned earlier, once the PHI has expired the product is safe to consume, but keep in mind that many of you do not receive your produce at the moment the PHI expires.

Once the PHI has elapsed, the product is harvested, shipped to the packinghouse, cooled from ambient temperature to ideal storage temperature, placed on a mode of transportation for shipping, and a day or two later it is found in your grocery store where you purchase it and use it that night or days later.

The point being made here is that there are hours, if not days, in between when the product is safe and ready to consume to when the product is actually consumed. In addition, please remember no matter what the method of growing, I would encourage everyone to make it a habit to wash your fruits and vegetables to ensure cleanliness of any contaminate that may have been introduced in the many intermediate handling steps, such as the grocery store or in shipping, prior to consumption.

To really put things into perspective, approximately 1 percent of all imported food is inspected at the more than 300 ports of entry into the United States. I’ll leave you with one final thought, “Are imported foods from other countries held to the same food safety and growing standards as those produced here in the United States?” Keep in mind, approximately 1 percent of the imported food is inspected at ports of entry.

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