How Agribusiness Turned 12 of Your Favorite Fruits and Vegetables Into Toxic Threats

I love the taste of a fresh strawberry. I’m lucky that I live in Florida and I can go out in my yard and pick them. But if you buy them from a store, there’s something you need to know…

The food industry puts poisons on your food, and they stay in your body even after you eat them.

During one test, there were 30 different pesticides found on the strawberries sold as ready for you to eat.1

StrawberriesI love fresh strawberries, but there are a few things you need to know before you buy them at the store…

Some of these chemicals rob you of the nutrients you need. Many have unpredictable effects in your body that we know very little about.

And it’s not just strawberries. Spinach is another example of something I love, but another test revealed 10 different pesticides on a single commercial sample of spinach.

The good news is, you can avoid most of these chemicals if you follow the few rules of thumb I give my patients. I’ll tell you about those in a moment.

But first, you should know that even low doses of common pesticides that big agricultural companies use, like organochlorine (OC) pesticides, have been strongly linked to various chronic diseases including diabetes and heart diseases.

The pesticide endosulfan is an important example. It turns up in both your food and on other crops like cotton.2 Despite evidence that this chemical was harmful, the FDA insisted it was safe.

But one study says these pesticides may be a major reason why Americans are often deficient in one of the most powerful disease and cancer-preventive nutrients we know of, vitamin D.

The prestigious medical journal PLoS One did a review of a study that measured people for 13 different OC pesticides. They found high levels of 7 different OC pesticides in 1,275 people, including the pesticide DDT which was banned 40 years ago.

The study revealed that those with the most pesticides in their bodies had the lowest levels of vitamin D.2

What you may not know is that the FDA allows the practice of – and even defends – using the chemicals. Not only that, but they’ve participated in the practice. They’ve made it difficult for other people to be able to put products in front of you other than what comes from Big Agribusiness.

They are friends with Agribusiness, they’re paid by Agribusiness, and the politicians are elected by and in some cases come from the ranks of Agribusiness.

And the FDA only moved to stop the use of endosulfan because of the danger to agricultural employees, not because of the danger to you who are consuming the crops. And they’re supposed to be in charge of regulating our food safety.

In fact, the FDA hasn’t banned endosulfan so much as it’s being phased out. Agriculture companies will still be able to use it until 2016.3 That means it’s going to be around in our environment for a long time.

That concerns me because these pesticides only add to the environmental chemical burden that wreaks havoc on your hormones. When these chemicals get into your blood, your body mistakes them for real hormones. For men, this means the gradual loss of masculine characteristics and development of feminine features and abnormal growth of the prostate. In women, it means a rise in breast and ovarian cancers and a dramatic worsening of symptoms of menopause.

These industrial pesticides might also have other effects we don’t even know about yet. How could anyone know what decades of consuming pesticides and other hormone-disrupting chemicals will do? In terms of human evolution, it’s a brand-new problem, and we have no way of knowing what all the effects will be.

This is why, to help protect you and your family, I recommend you follow these three general guidelines:

1. The first rule of thumb I give my patients is that while it may not be economically practical for you to always buy everything organic, it may make sense to buy organic for the worst offenders.

Here’s how the best and the worst stack up:4

Chart 1

Chart 2

After you buy produce, you may wash your fruits and vegetables to get rid of the dirt, bugs, wax and pesticides. It may help, but many of today’s pesticides are designed to bind to the surface and don’t easily wash off.

Surprisingly, the food checked by the government in the test I mentioned above was washed and prepared for normal consumption before it was tested. Even if you rinse with water, you could still get chemical contamination.

2. So my second rule of thumb is to take these additional steps to prepare your produce:

  • Peel your fruits and vegetables and remove outer leaves on cabbage, lettuce, garlic and onions.
  • For the produce you don’t peel, soak them in a mixture of vinegar and water (equal parts). After 10 or 15 minutes, rinse them with cold water.
  • Alternatively, soak your produce in a weak mixture of dishwashing liquid. Then rinse well with cold water.
  • If you don’t have time to soak, you can fill a spray bottle with 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Spray on, let sit and rinse with cold water.
  • Or try the old-fashioned way: Fill your sink with water. Add a capful of bleach. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove and let the produce soak in fresh water, then rinse well.
  • Avoid commercial produce that’s bruised. They’re more likely to have concentrations of pesticides deep within the fruit.

3. My third rule of thumb is that if you grow your own produce like I do, it’s a good idea to use a soap-and-water solution to get rid of aphids.

However, Stay away from products that claim to be “eco-friendly” or “natural,” when they clearly are not.

For example, avoid synthetic pyrethroids. They’re similar to pyrethrins, which are natural insect-killing extracts from the flower chrysanthemum. But pyrethroids are created in a lab. Permethrin is one of those synthetics to avoid.

Also, stay away from “geraniol.” It’s billed as natural because it’s made from roses, lemons and geraniums, but it’s been banned in Europe because of its toxicity to humans.

In my garden, I use neem oil to keep out pests. This extract from the fruit of the neem tree has been used for pest control in parts of Asia and India for over 2,500 years. It’s completely non-toxic. When the Environmental Protection Agency went to test neem for toxicity, it found zero reactions, even at the highest exposure.

In fact, you can use any part of the tree for pest control – the twigs, the leaves or the berries. The tree will grow in Florida. In other places and colder climates, I’ve seen it grown indoors in pots. Even sitting in a pot, it’ll serve to keep the bugs out. You can take a couple leaves and put them in your cabinets to keep cockroaches out. Or you can fray up the ends of the stems (so that the twigs are like brushes) and leave those around, and they’ll work the same as the leaves do.

As more and more people understand the hazards of chemicals on our food and in the home, market pressure will encourage the introduction of even more of these safer products.

1. “Report Card: Pesticides in Produce.” Environmental Working Group. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
2. Yang J, Lee Y, Bae S, Jacobs D Jr, Lee D. “Associations between Organochlorine Pesticides and Vitamin D Deficiency in the U.S. Population.” PLoS ONE 2012; 7(1): e30093.
3. “Endosulphan Memorandum of Agreement.” Environmental Protection Agency, July 2010. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
4. Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and Produce. Environmental Working Group. Retrieved March 25, 2012.