If you’re well versed with the global organic space, you would’ve heard the term ‘dirty dozen’. If you’ve never heard of it, Fresh India Organics, the brand that offers premium, high-quality organic produce to consumers in Mumbai, breaks it down for you.
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ is a list of 12 fruits and vegetables as identified by the Environmental Working Group (an organisation of scientists, researchers and policymakers) that contain a very large amount of chemicals and pesticides. As a result, these are fruits and vegetables that you should always try and consume in their purest and organic form.
Here is the list of all fruits and vegetables-
Cauliflower attracts different worms and caterpillars, which in a short time begin laying eggs in the vegetable. Because of this, the farmers treat the cauliflower with a chemical known as Endosulphan. Vegetables treated with this chemical are not supposed to be eaten for 14 days – but farmers usually sell the cauliflower the next day itself! What’s more, cauliflowers often have black spots on them, which are not harmful if consumed – however farmers use fungicides (another chemical) to get rid of these dots, to make the vegetable look more appealing.
Farmers often dunk the cabbage in a Carbofuran (one of the most toxic pesticides) solution to achieve an instant blueish/greenish shine on the vegetable. Producers of this chemical have warned that produce dipped in Carbofuran should not be consumed or sold for at least 28 days. However, farmers in our country sell the cabbage on the same day itself!
Prior to 1983, there were no pesticides used on apples. However, in 1983 there was a large-scale attack by mealybugs on the apples grown in Himachal Pradesh. To counter this attack, the government issued an order to use 29 different chemicals that could save apples from further such attacks. This solved the problem of the mealybugs, however the government did not retract the order and therefore farmers still spray the apples with some of those chemicals.
Most of the chemicals used are ‘systemic pesticides’. These are chemicals which when sprayed, are absorbed throughout the plant or fruit. This means that these pesticides cannot be washed off. Peeling off the skin of the apple will not help, as the pesticides have already reached all layers of the fruit and contaminated it.
‘Baingans’ are very prone to attacks by caterpillars and fruit borers, which tend to spoil the inside of the vegetable. In order to counter these attacks, farmers use systemic insecticides (which, as mentioned, spread through the insides of the vegetable). The chemicals used are called ‘Organophosphates,’ which are also neural poisons. These chemicals were introduced during World War 2 where they were used as nerve poisons in canisters that were dropped to disorient soldiers in the opposing armies. This is the same stuff that is sprayed on the Brinjal.
Pesticides are usually used on grapes after they have been harvested. There are many different pesticides used, some of which are Organophosphates (the same dangerous chemicals used on brinjals). After the grapes have been picked from the field, they are dunked into drums filled with liquid pesticides. Once they are removed from the cans, the smell of the pesticides fades away, however the poison still remains inside the fruit as it has been absorbed.
At home, we tend to be extra careful while washing grapes and do so thoroughly to get any dirty or mud off. The dirty or mud is not what will cause any harm to you – the chemicals embedded will, as they can’t simply be washed off.
Potatoes are grown underground and therefore they are subject to attacks by ‘root grubs’ (pests that feed on the roots of plants) and potato beetles. In order to get rid of these pests, systemic chemicals such as Organochlorines are added into the soil, where they penetrate into the insides of the potato. During storage, potatoes are also attacked by weevils (small beetles), which cause ugly-looking holes in the potato.
Around 30 years ago, farmers used to use dangerous Bromides (which can cause neural and cognitive problems) to get rid of these weevils. The use of this is now banned, however now farmers use fumigants in the form of tablets, which when released in water, give off a toxic gas and kill the pests. This therefore still puts potatoes in the high-risk category, if they aren’t organic.
Some may wonder why this staple fruit appears on the list despite having a thick peel on its outside. However, this peel does not protect the insides of the fruit. Indian farmers often use an extremely powerful chemical (supposedly used during the Vietnam war) known as 2-4-D to make our bunch of bananas larger and sometimes duplicate them. This chemical penetrates right into the fruit, which then gets ingested when eaten.
Quick-growing greens such as kale, spinach, curry leaves and mint are also often sprayed with chemicals. For these greens, farmers often mix a bunch of different pesticides and chemicals to create a strong ‘cocktail’ of substances which is then sprayed onto the plant.
Spinach plants in particular are sprayed at least once a week to ensure that insects don’t chew on their leaves. As buyers, we often discard a whole bunch of spinach, even if just one leaf has a tiny hole. Question is – would you rather have your spinach with slight damage (natural of course) or loaded with chemicals?
Tomatoes, just like Brinjals are often attacked by the fruit borer family. ‘Systemic Insecticides’ are used which then penetrate into the fruit and attack the pests. Once again these are chemicals which cannot just be washed away. Tomatoes have a naturally shiny exterior and therefore pesticides are more often injected internally than sprayed externally on the surface. Unfortunately, this just means that the entire fruit is contaminated, not just the skin!
Mangoes are subject to a number of chemicals. The first is endosulphan which is sprayed on the fruit 10 days before it is harvested in order to get rid of fruit flies. This chemical does not seep into the fruit and therefore the insides remain uncontaminated. Due to the growing popularity of mangoes, the fruit is being mass-produced. This means they have to be transported long distances and therefore are often plucked before they have the chance to ripen.
They are then injected with ethylene gas externally to ripen the fruit. Usually ethylene is released naturally from the seed outwards as it ripens – this is the natural process. However, externally injecting this gas means ripening the mango from the skin inwards, and thus you are left with a skin that looks golden yellow but a fruit that tastes sour.
Strawberries are very vulnerable to attacks from whitegrubs, cutworms and caterpillars. Since there is no outer layer for protection, strawberries are often sprayed with the chemical endosulphan to prevent contamination. Strawberries are usually supposed to be harvested once at least half their skin develops color.
However, oftentimes farmers are in a rush to sell off the produce and harvest the fruit before they are supposed to. To give strawberries their color therefore, they spray the outer layers with chemicals or dyes and then sell them off quicker.
Cucumbers are very prone to attacks by insects. To counter these attacks, farmers use chemicals such as flubendiamide and deltamethrin which act on the insect’s nervous system to get rid of them. These two chemicals are extremely dangerous substances and can have horrible side effects when consumed. These chemicals often stay on the vegetable even after the cucumber has been harvested.
Therefore, washing the cucumber thoroughly or even peeling off the skin may not get rid of these chemicals. Studies have shown that even after harvesting, sometimes more than 30 pesticide residues are found on the cucumber.
The next time you’re buying your fruit and vegetables, it’s good to keep this information in mind – thanks to Fresh India Organics, an organic, healthier, and safer option is available to anyone who wishes to choose it.