Carcinogenic, Hormone-Disrupting Fungicides Found on Citrus Fruit

Ever since I began cancer coaching 15 years ago I’ve consistently advised clients that fruits and vegetables with thick skin—such as citrus—do not have to be  purchased organic.

This advice has all changed…

A recent investigation commissioned by the Environmental Working Group identified imazalil and thiabendazole on nearly 90 percent of non-organic citrus fruit samples. More than half the samples contained both of these hormone-disrupting fungicides.

These harmful fungicides affect the endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, growth, and development. They can also harm the reproductive system. California has classified imazalil as a carcinogenic cancer-causing agent.

The highest levels of imazalil and thiabendazole were found on oranges, mandarins, lemons, and grapefruit. These fungicides, typically applied after harvesting to prolong shelf life, were not found on organic products.

[RELATED CONTENT: EWG: Our Best Resource To Inform Against Harmful Chemicals]

According to the findings, the average concentration of imazalil was approximately 20 times what EWG scientists recommend at the higher acceptable limits to protect children against increased cancer risk. However, more research is needed to determine the upper limits of children being exposed to thiabendazole.

Imported Citrus Contained More Fungicide Residue Than Domestic

What was really surprising is that the imported conventionally grown citrus samples were shown to have over four times the amount of imazalil, though three samples contained no pesticide residues. The amount of thiabendazole was similar in domestic U.S. and imported samples. Longer transport time and storage may have contributed to the increase in imazalil.

As mentioned at the start of this post, for years I’ve recommended readers and coaching clients to follow the ‘thick skin’ rules for purchasing produce, specifically fruit. The refrain was: If the skin is thick—bananas, mangoes, pineapple, and citrus—it’s okay to consume conventionally-grown products.

That has now changed. What hasn’t changed is my recommendation to continue to follow the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.

If you can afford to purchase only organic produce, then by all means continue to do so. Organic produce almost always has a better taste than their conventionally grown counterparts. However, it remains most economical to take a hybrid approach.

There is a debate on whether it’s a net-net benefit from a nutrition standpoint to eat thoroughly washed conventionally grown fruits with the highest known level of pesticide residue when organic cannot be found or is unaffordable. Specifically, I am talking about the so-called powerhouse super fruits, namely berries—strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. But this also includes peaches, nectarines, and all varieties of apples.

Should these be skipped altogether if organic is not available?  After all, the majority of what’s grown and consumed, at least in the U.S., is conventionally grown. Others will disagree, but I tell my clients to pass on these particular highly pesticide treated fruits when only conventionally grown products are available or affordable.

For the time being I have shifted to all organic for citrus. It is a financial hit given the amount of citrus we consume. For lemons alone we go through about 30 or so weekly. To be 100% transparent, I’m envious of my coaching clients who live in the west, and in Hawaii, who grow assorted citrus organically year-round in their backyards!

What Will You Decide?

I encourage you to read the EWG report accessible here, and to make your own informed decision on conventional versus organically-grown citrus fruit.

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Photo credit: bigstockphoto/AlsuKanyusheva