Berry Goodness

A favorite snack this time of year: Greek yogurt (so thick, so creamy, so good — I like Fage brand) with berries and — if I am very lucky — toasted walnuts!

The Environmental Working Group (such a great organization!) recently released updated lists of the Dirty Dozen (the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads — best to buy organic) and the Clean Fifteen (the fruits and veggies with the lowest pesticide loads — okay to buy conventionally-grown).

Here’s the Dirty Dozen list for 2010 — the complete Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides can be found here.

The Dirty Dozen
1. Celery
2. Peaches
3. Strawberries
4. Apples
5. Blueberries (domestic)
6. Nectarines
7. Sweet Bell Peppers
8. Spinach
9. Kale/Collard Greens
10. Cherries

For me, the saddest new additions to the Dirty Dozen are blueberries!  These days, if Matt and I can’t find (or afford) organic versions of the Dirty Dozen, we substitute from the Clean Fifteen — in the case of berries, we go for mango, cantaloupe, and pineapple instead.

But when we DO get our hands on organic berries, there is MUCH joy in the house!

Honeybee Deaths, Pesticides, and Why Choosing Organic is Important

Honeybees are essential to modern agriculture.  Pollination by honeybees is a required step in the production of one of every three bites of food we take!  When honeybees began dying in droves several winters ago (a phenomenon termed Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD), a flurry of research into the reasons for their decline began.  The fruits of those research efforts are now beginning to appear.  And folks, the news ain’t good.

A number of factors behind CCD have been identified, including infection of honeybees by viruses and pathogens, as well as immune-system stress and malnutrition due to modern migratory beekeeping practices.

One additional standout factor, pesticide exposure, was also widely suspected, and a recent study by university and government researchers provides new support for that hypothesis.

In their paper, the researchers present the results of a broad survey of agricultural chemical levels (miticides, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) from all parts of bee hives (honey, pollen, honeycomb, foundation wax, and the bees themselves) in both healthy and CCD-affected bee colonies across 23 states and one Canadian provence.

The researchers found unprecedented levels (and diverse combinations) of these chemicals, particularly in pollen (the food of both baby and adult bees) and beeswax (the bees’ housing material).  The researchers conclude:

The widespread occurrence of multiple residues, some at toxic levels [for bees] for single compounds, and the lack of any scientific literature on the biological consequences of combinations of pesticides, argues strongly for urgent changes in regulatory policies regarding pesticide registration and monitoring procedures as they relate to pollinator safety.  This further calls for emergency funding to address the myriad holes in our scientific understanding of pesticide consequences for pollinators.  The relegation of bee toxicity for registered compounds to impact only label warnings, and the underestimation of systemic pesticide hazards to bees in the registration process may well have contributed to widespread pesticide contamination of pollen, the primary food source of our major pollinator.  Is risking the $14 billion contribution of pollinators to our food system really worth lack of action?

In short: our current agricultural practices are likely poisoning our bees, and if we don’t change our approach, we will lose both bees (honeybees AND wild bees) and their pollination services.  Already, each winter since 2006, we have lost 1/3 of our country’s standing population of honeybees, with no end in sight without widespread changes to our chemical use.

Overhauling our country’s agricultural practices to be bee-friendly is an enormous task.  But supporting our nation’s bees by buying organically-grown produce is a simple, immediate, and effective action that we as individuals can take!  Research shows that bees — both honeybees and wild bees — who pollinate at organic farms thrive!

Buying organic can be expensive, it is true.  Maybe you can’t afford to buy all organic all the time.  That’s okay — remember, some organic is better than no organic!

I am still searching for a list of the most chemical-intensive bee-pollinated crops (if you know of such a list, please let me know!), but in the meantime, I’m prioritizing my organic shopping using this handy pocket guide to The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen — the fruits and vegetables that possess the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues, respectively.  These lists will help you identify which foods are best to buy organic (The Dirty Dozen) and which can be bought conventional if needed (The Clean Fifteen).

We keep a copy in the notebook in which we make our weekly grocery lists.  It is surely a help!  Here’s the rundown of The Dirty Dozen, some of which are bee-pollinated, and some of which are not:

1.  Peaches
2.  Apples
3.  Bell Peppers
4.  Celery
5.  Nectarines
6.  Strawberries
7.  Cherries
8.  Kale
9.  Lettuce
10.  Grapes (imported)
11.  Carrots
12.  Pears

Put organic versions of these fruits and veggies into your shopping cart whenever you can, and know that you are being good to yourself, to the environment, and to bees!

Additionally, if you farm on any scale and are interested in adopting bee-friendly practices, check out these general agricultural guidelines and these organic farm guidelines from The Xerces Society, a truly wonderful nonprofit invertebrate conservation organization.


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