Me and my family love the outdoors. Especially walking in the forest. In the end of the summer, the blueberries are everywhere.
Well, perhaps not everywhere but sometimes it actually seems like it.
I treasure the moments I get to share with my children running around eating delicious, ripe blueberries directly from the bushes.
As much as I loved watching them run around eating berries, one summer I raised the question, is it safe for them?
I hear so much about pesticides. Could these wild ones be sprayed with pesticides?
After some research I found out that blueberries that grow wild are not sprayed with pesticides, but it's not that easy, I'm afraid.
There are several factors, including the amount of pesticides used on and near them, that play a role for the health benefits of blueberries.
When researching the pesticide usage on wild blueberries I came across cultivated blueberries and I couldn't resist to look into them as well.
I found out that the cultivated blueberries are almost always sprayed with pesticides!
Table of Contents
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What Are Wild Blueberries?
Wild blueberries are small berries that grow wild in most parts of Europe, apart from the Mediterranean, and in some parts of Asia.
In Sweden, blueberries are one of the most common plants. Blueberries thrive in pine forests and cover almost 17% of Sweden's surface.
Perhaps that's why we some years feel like we got blueberries everywhere!
Botanically, however, the blueberry bushes are called dwarf trees, since they have a small main stem and branches that form a leaf crown.
The wild blueberry has long been used in folk medicine and as supplements because of the positive health effects it can provide.
This little berry is full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as A, B, C, E, B6, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, beta carotene and phosphorus.
The wild blueberries can help protect against diseases. Half a cup of blueberries give you as many antioxidants as five portions of other fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apples, grapes and eggplant.
What Are Cultivated Blueberries?
If you can't get hold of wild blueberries you can almost always buy cultivated ones in your local store.
They are grown on large blueberry crops in Central Europe, North and South America.
The cultivated bushes grow twice as fast as the wild berries and get very big in comparison. The bush itself can actually grow up to four feet high.
The cultivated blueberry is atleast twice as large as the wild one.
The cultivated blueberries also contain antioxidants, vitamins and minerals but not in the same concentration as the wild berry.
Like many other things, the berries you find out in the wild, don't have to worry about crop size or economic factors. They just grow.
If you'd like to learn more about the European and the American blueberries I recommend you read our article titled Are European Blueberries Good For You? Better Than US Ones?
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What Are Pesticides And How Do They Affect Us?
Pesticides are used in agriculture to protect plants against pests, mold and weeds. There are both chemical and biological pesticides.
There are many research reports on what pesticides are and what it does in our food and in our bodies when ingested.
But, despite the extensive research, we are not completely sure how these pesticides affect us and our environment in the long run.
WHO, the World Health Organization, keeps a close eye on the pesticides available globally.
In a fact sheet that they released in February 2018, they wrote that there are more than 1000 pesticides in the global market.
WHO writes about pesticides in food, "Pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects, depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed. Some of the older, cheaper pesticides can remain for years in soil and water. These chemicals have been banned from agricultural use in developed countries, but they are still used in many developing countries." (source)
What About Pesticides In Wild Blueberries?
The good news is that berries that grow in the wild are not actively sprayed with pesticides.
But I'm afraid thats not the end of it.
Unfortunately, just because the wild blueberries aren't actively sprayed doesn't mean that there are no traces of pesticides or other poisons found in the field or the forests where the blueberries grow.
If you find it in the ground there is a risk that it also will be found in the berry.
As a private citizen I recommend you avoid picking blueberries in areas where you suspect there might be sources of pollutants nearby.
When you buy your blueberries you've got to put your trust in one or many different organizations and agencies that are tasked with monitoring and regulating what gets in or on to our food.
Organizations That Monitor Pesticide Residue In Our Food
There are several organizations across the globe that monitor and regulate the use of pesticides and the residue they leave behind in and on our food.
Here's an example of a private organization (KRAV, Sweden), a multinational organization (EFSA, EU) and two national, governmental organizatios/agencies (EPA, FDA) in the US.
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Private organization that monitor pesticide use and residues
In Sweden there is an organization that controls wild blueberries (and other foods) that grow in the wild. The organization is called KRAV.
The Swedish word "krav" is "requirement" in English.
For an area to be able to get their approval for KRAV-certified produce, they require that:
- The field may not have had artificial fertilizer used on in the last three years
- The soil must not have been sprayed in the last three years
- Picking of berries in the area must not be done within three years of re-planting
- The area must not be too close to a busy road
- The area must not be too close to any sources of pollution
- The Cesium content of the soil must not be too high
If all of these demands are met, an area and the produce from it may receive a KRAV-certification or tag. So if you find blueberries with this tag, you can eat them with good conscience. (source)
International Organization that monitor pesticide use and residues
EFSA, European Food Safety Authority, performs thorough checks on all food in Europe. In 2016, they released a new report on pesticides.
In the report, they describe how 97% of all their food samples are free from pesticides or contain residues of pesticides within the legal limits. (source)
I don't think that sounds very reassuring but EFSA is claiming that it's safe to eat even though you can find some residues in the blueberries.
There are strict rules within the EU regarding pesticide use.
A pesticide may not be used within the EU unless it is scientifically proven that it does not harm human health or damage the environment.
That's a rule I hope they follow.
National governmental agencies that monitor pesticide use and residues
Federal government agencies in the United States share responsibility for the oversight of pesticide chemical residues in or on food.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves the use of pesticides and may establish tolerances for pesticide chemical residues that could remain in or on food.
A tolerance is the by EPA established maximum residue level of a specific pesticide chemical that is permitted in or on a human or animal food in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for enforcing tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for amounts of pesticide residues that may legally remain on food
FDA selectively tests a broad range of imported and domestic commodities for approximately 700 pesticide residues. (source)
Are Cultivated Blueberries Full Of Pesticides?
EFSA controls all food in Europe, which means that both the wild and the grown blueberries, growing in Europe are controlled and subject to their approval.
EFSA has its own control function while incorporating reports from all countries in Europe from the country's own control authorities.
In North and South America, many crops are sprayed with pesticides.
PAN, Pesticides Action Network, tested blueberries and found over 50 pesticides residues in the berries! (source)
52 different pesticides in any food sounds extreme to me.
As we have no problems getting fresh wild blueberries where we live, I'll keep away from any cultivated ones.
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Not All Wild Blueberries Are Actually Wild!
I've learned that there is one important thing that you need to pay extra attention to when buying blueberries.
In some of the large blueberry crops in North and South America they grow not only the big high-bush blueberries, they also grow a low-bush blueberry.
The low-bush blueberry is often marketed as wild berries. However, this does not mean that they are free from pesticides. The low-bush blueberries are grown in the same pesticide rich environment as the high-bush ones.
They aren't all bad, of course but I just don't know which ones are ok. So I'll choose the wild ones everytime.
If you want to try some unsprayed blueberries that are picked in the wild lands of Northern Europe, we recommend you buy these frozen billberries#ad on Amazon. They are absolutely delicious! For images and prices including availability in other Amazon markets please go to our recommended page.
Blueberries Are Nutritious!
In Europe, the authorities argue that although there may be small amounts of pesticides in the food we eat, the amounts are small and doesn't pose a danger.
The argument is that the positive health effects from eating fruit, vegetables and berries trumps, by order of magnitude, the negative side effects of eating the same foods with small amounts of residual pesticides.
Research and scientific studies have shown that people who eat a lot of fruits, vegetables and berries are less likely to suffer from certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and obesity and diabetes.
I urge you to read more about this fantastic berry in our category for Healthy Blueberries. There's a lot to learn!
Conclusion: Will I Keep Serving Blueberries To My Children?
I feel safe with the blueberries me and my family consume.
I'll still get that smile looking at my children running around eating blueberries.
But from now on I'll smile not only because these moments are treasured but also because I now know for certain that the wild blueberries are the best there is.
But, in the future, when buying blueberries I'll take an extra look at the package. I'll keep a close eye on where the berries come from.
I recommend you do the same.
Oh, and by the way, you can always grow your own blueberries. That way you get to know exactly what they contain!
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Frequently asked questions about Wild Blueberries and Pesticides
Are wild blueberries safe to eat?
Yes, wild blueberries, grown and picked in the wild, are safe to eat. Actual wild blueberries have not been intentionally sprayed with pesticides. You should however be aware of the nearby surroundings when picking blueberries in the wild. Heavy traffic, farming, a factory or other production facilities etc. nearby could have an adverse effect on their surroundings. When buying wild blueberries you have to make sure that the wild berries actually have been picked in the wild. There are companies that cultivate low-bush blueberries and market them as wild. Just because they’ve been named wild blueberries doesn’t mean that they haven’t been sprayed with some form of pesticides.
Is there control organs that check if the blueberries are safe?
Yes, in Europe there is a control organ called EFSA. They do thorough checks on all food in Europe. Both the wild and cultivated blueberries, in Europe are controlled and subject to their approval. In the US there are both the EPA and FDA that control and monitor the use of pesticides and that the amounts of pesticide residues stay within legal limits on and in our food.
Are cultivated blueberries sprayed with pesticides?
In North and South America, many crops are sprayed with pesticides. The Pesticides Action Network, tested cultivated blueberries and found 52 pesticides residues in the berries.
How harmful are pesticides in food?
Multiple studies have been made on what pesticides are and what it does in our food and in our bodies when ingested. Despite this extensive research, we’re not completely sure how these pesticides affect us and our environment in the long run. Pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects, depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed.