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Pesticide Residue and Fertility Potential

Adapted from Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic and EWG’s 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

A study by Harvard University researchers found that consumption of fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of pesticide residue was associated with a lower sperm count and lower percentage of morphologically (shape-wise) normal sperm among men presenting to a fertility clinic.

Men who consumed the largest amounts of high pesticide residue fruits and vegetables had 49 percent lower sperm counts and 32 percent fewer normal-appearing sperm than men who ate fruits and vegetables with the smallest amounts of pesticide contamination.

Careful washing of the foods did not eliminate the chemicals since the pesticide residue can get into the roots of fruits and vegetables from the ground and into the substance of the foods themselves.

This does not mean that people should stop eating fruits and vegetables, which are a necessary part of a healthy reproductive medicine diet, but people should choose organic fruits and vegetables, which have been shown to contain much less pesticide residue, or, at least, select fruits and vegetables that do not absorb as much pesticide.

Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen


The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy organization, produced a Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ based on the test results of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EWG did not participate in the above Harvard University study of pesticides and male reproductive function. USDA found a total of 165 different pesticides in thousands of fruit and vegetables samples.

Key findings:

  • 99 percent of apple samples, 98 percent of peaches, and 97 percent of nectarines tested positive for at least one pesticide residue.
  • The average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other produce.
  • A single grape sample and a sweet bell pepper sample contained 15 pesticides.
  • Single samples of cherry tomatoes, nectarines, peaches, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece.
  • A significant portion of commercially available baby food, particularly applesauce, apple juice, grape juice, and peaches, contain alarming levels of pesticides.
  • Avocados were the cleanest: only 1 percent of avocado samples showed any detectable pesticides.
  • Some 89 percent of pineapples, 82 percent of kiwi, 80 percent of papayas, 88 percent of mango and 61 percent of cantaloupe had no residues.


Avoiding pesticides:

Smart shopping choices matter. People who eat organic produce eat fewer pesticides. A study by Cynthia Curl of the University of Washington found that people who report they "often or always" buy organic produce had significantly less organophosphate insecticides in their urine samples, even though they reported eating 70 percent more servings of fruits and vegetables per day than adults reporting they "rarely or never" purchase organic produce.

The following table will help you decide which produce may be safe to buy conventional and which you should always purchase organic (click on the table to download a pdf copy).

Pesticide Residue
(Lower Numbers = More Pesticides = Buy Organic Instead)

Pesticide Residue


  Adapted from Environmental Working Group.

It is very important that you make fruits and vegetables the foundation of your reproductive health diet. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables even outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. If you cannot buy organic, eating conventionally grown produce is better than skipping fruits and vegetables.

May 2015


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