The Dirty Truth About Pesticides and Bananas

Image: Eric St. Pierre for Equal Exchange

 

Bananas are not on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List, however, they are one of the most chemically intensive crops grown. The list can mislead people into thinking conventional bananas must be ok to consume, because bananas have a peel, so all pesticides are on the outside of the fruit. But think again – and choose organic, whenever possible. Here’s why:

1. Non-organic bananas are grown on large plantations, year after year, without any changes or crop rotations. This makes them highly susceptible to pests. As a consequence, non-organic bananas are heavily sprayed with synthetic insecticides and herbicides, for example chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate neurotoxin, which harms farm workers as much as the environment.

2. Non-organic bananas are grown with intense use of synthetic fertilizers to maximize production. Because the uptake of synthetic materials by the plant is not fully predictable, over-fertilization of bananas is common. This again exposes farm workers to chemicals, but also impacts the coastal regions, fish populations,  and communities living nearby.

Image: Eric St. Pierre for Equal Exchange

 

3. Studies have shown that the skin of a fruit is permeable, similar to our own skin, and that a certain amount of toxins do end up in the fruit, no matter how protective the skin may be. While safe handling when eating a banana or feeding a baby – including washing the peel of a banana before consumption – may reduce your exposure to harmful pesticides, some pesticides may be inside the flesh and cannot be washed off.

4. As a good citizen, we compost the peel of a banana, or it goes into the landfill. Either way, the chemicals sticking to the skin of the banana will ultimately leach into our soil and groundwater, wherever we may place the peel. And from the groundwater, the chemicals come right back to us via our drinking water, cooking water, or shower water.

Image: Eric St. Pierre for Equal Exchange

To avoid pesticides, ask for organic and fair trade certified bananas. While there are many choices, we stand behind Equal Exchange Bananas

Sources:
Environmental Working Group
Environmental Working Group
The Organic Center

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3 comments

  1. Bob Metz

    Quick question…I understand that the banana skin may have a permeability to it…that would allow the passage of pesticides and other chemicals…it seems to me that the continual growth of banana w/o crop rotation…and the continual use of synthetic pesticides…would result in a heavy residual in the soil…shouldn’t this also result in the pickup of pesticides and chemicals via the root system and into the developing flesh of the fruit…and continue as old plants are replaced with new…maybe this a little longer than I thought…forgive the pun…but thank you for the food for thought…
    Bob

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    • An Organic Conversation

      Thank you for your comment and thoughts, Bob! We have not yet seen a scientific study on pesticide residues in conventional banana production operations, or the uptake of pesticide residues in the soil by banana plants via their root system. However, this dynamic has been documented for vegetables and one would assume that most or all plants follow the same ecological principles. Bananas remain as one of the heaviest sprayed fruit, and you are right, because of zero crop rotation, anything applied would bio-accumulate and could eventually be taken up by the banana plants, old or new. The absence of crop rotation or intercropping with, for example, legumes or vetch, which is common on organic vegetable farms, also does not provide the soil any rest or cleaning of chemicals or nourishment back into the soil on conventional banana operations. So, in essence, given these issues, it is important to choose organic bananas when ever possible. Thank you again for your input!

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