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India’s Dirty Dozen

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a U.S.-based organization, regularly releases a list known as the “Dirty Dozen,” highlighting foods with significant pesticide residue levels. Intrigued, I sought to find a similar resource focused on Indian fruits and vegetables. Surprisingly, such information is not readily available in India. It’s essential to note that the U.S. list may not directly apply to India due to differences in farming practices, climate conditions, and consumer dietary preferences.

In response to this gap, we have undertaken the initiative to compile an “India’s Dirty Dozen” list tailored to the Indian context. This comprehensive list is curated based on insights gathered from farmers, local fruit and vegetable vendors, traders, and consumers across the country. Our diligent efforts have been ongoing since October 2020 to ensure the accuracy and relevance of this important resource for Indian consumers.

India’s Dirty Dozen List

1. Leafy Greens

While leafy greens like spinach, fenugreek leaves (methi), coriander, mint, and curry leaves are renowned for their nutritional benefits, they are increasingly subjected to chemical treatments.

Spinach, for instance, is sprayed weekly to deter insects from damaging select leaves, thereby minimizing the chances of customers rejecting the entire bundle due to imperfections.

Furthermore, a significant portion of these greens is cultivated in the flood plains of the Yamuna River, where the water is tainted with chemicals and heavy metals. The prevalent practice of using sewage water and sludge for cultivation further compounds the concerns.

While leafy greens offer numerous health advantages, their consumption can pose risks when cultivated using the aforementioned methods. Therefore, it’s advisable to opt for organic variants whenever possible.


2. Mango

Mangoes are treated with Endosulphan approximately ten days before harvesting to combat fruit flies that could potentially damage the fruit post-harvest.

To accelerate the ripening process, Ethylene gas and Calcium Carbide are employed. While Ethylene gas poses no harm when emitted externally, it doesn’t uniformly ripen the mangoes. As a result, certain mangoes may appear ripe on the exterior while remaining unripe internally.

3. Papaya

For the last 5 years, I couldn’t get a papaya that I could eat. Always it is unripe and I bring it home and after a few days, it gets fungal attacks without ripening.

The main cause is artificial ripening which converts the unripe papaya into an over-ripen one.


4. Cauliflower

There’s another widely consumed vegetable that used to be a staple in my daily diet. However, upon learning about the extensive pesticide usage in its cultivation, I refrained from consuming it until I could source an organic alternative.

Cauliflower faces threats from pests like semi-looper worms and various caterpillars, leading traders to employ endosulfan as a protective measure. It’s important to note that vegetables treated with endosulfan should ideally be avoided for 14 days post-treatment. Despite this, cauliflowers, much like cabbages, are often sprayed and made available for sale, sometimes even on the same day or certainly within a week.

5. Ginger

Traditionally cultivated ginger frequently undergoes treatment with synthetic pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers. Given that ginger is a root vegetable, it tends to absorb these chemicals more readily, increasing the likelihood of contamination.

Moreover, to enhance its appearance, traders often employ a solution containing sulphuric acid to wash the ginger, giving it a polished and glossy look. Therefore, if you’re purchasing ginger from a market and notice that it appears unusually large and overly fresh, it’s advisable to reconsider your purchase.


6. Tomato

Among vegetables, tomatoes stand out as particularly susceptible to the heavy application of synthetic fertilizers, second perhaps only to leafy greens. Given that tomatoes are frequently consumed raw, this raises additional concerns regarding potential chemical residues.

Tomatoes are vulnerable to pests from the fruit borer family, similar to brinjal (eggplant). To combat these pests, a commonly used group of chemicals known as organophosphates is applied.

A compelling study from the United States highlighted the detrimental effects of these chemicals. It revealed that children of farmers who utilized organophosphates exhibited smaller brain sizes and demonstrated slower learning capabilities compared to their counterparts who were not exposed. Organophosphates are known neurotoxins, posing significant risks to human health.

7. Banana

This widely consumed breakfast staple often undergoes artificial enhancement and accelerated ripening processes.

To promote the growth of bananas, farmers utilize pouches containing chemicals like 2-4-D or 2-4-5-T, applied to the cut ends of the banana flower. These chemicals are absorbed by the banana bunch, mimicking the effects of natural plant hormones and stimulating cell elongation, resulting in larger bunches. Notably, 2-4-D is the same chemical that was employed by the U.S. military for defoliating forests during the Vietnam War.

For ripening bananas in storage facilities, an ethereal solution or ethephon is commonly used, which releases ethylene gas. Ideally, this gas should be introduced in a controlled environment where bananas are stored in a closed chamber. However, to expedite the process, traders often opt for a quicker method by directly immersing the banana bunches in the ethereal solution.


8. Brinjal

Another common vegetable that is subject to caterpillar and fruit borer attacks. Spraying of pesticides is done especially at harvest time.

These nerve poisons were introduced during World War II when canisters of these nerve poisons were dropped into the tanks, disorienting the commanders and forcing them to emerge in the open.

9. Apples

The old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” no longer holds true because apples are sprayed with pesticides, and fungicides before harvesting, and wax is applied to keep them looking fresh.

Apple farmers now routinely apply at least 12 chemical sprays. Since systemic pesticides are being used, skinning the apple before eating is no protection.


10. Potato

The potato is a root crop and is subject to root grub and potato beetle attacks. During storage, potatoes are also subject to attacks from weevils which can make undesirable and ungainly-looking holes.

Thirty years ago, dangerous bromides like aluminum phosphide were used. These are now prohibited by law except for registered government agencies. Fumigants are now used in their place. These come in the form of tablets which when dissolved in water release a toxic gas.

11. Watermelon

In contemporary practices, watermelon pulp is often infused with red dye and sucrose to enhance its color and sweetness. However, the health implications of these additives are far from favorable.

grean beans

12. Green Beans

While green beans are often hailed for their health benefits, their cultivation involves the significant application of fertilizers and pesticides. This is largely attributed to their year-round availability, even when they are grown out of season, necessitating heightened pesticide use.

The widespread application of pesticides gives rise to apprehensions regarding both health and environmental consequences. Persistent residues of these chemicals can linger on the green beans, potentially jeopardizing the health of consumers who consume them.

What to do?

If you’re aiming to avoid the adverse effects of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, transitioning to organic produce is a prudent choice. However, it’s crucial to note that not all organic products are created equal. There’s a concerning prevalence of food fraud under the guise of organic labeling in the market. Surprisingly, a significant portion—more than 80%—of produce labeled as organic may not meet genuine organic standards. Therefore, it’s advisable to procure from reputable sources and consider visiting the farms to verify their organic practices firsthand.

If fully embracing an organic lifestyle feels daunting, prioritizing fruits and vegetables with minimal fertilizer or pesticide residues is a sensible alternative.

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1 thought on “India’s Dirty Dozen”

  1. If you think we have missed an even dirtier fruit or vegetable, please share by commenting below. Be assured we will explore more about the fruit or veggie and share more information here.

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