1) Organic is a production term— it does not address the quality, safety or nutritional value of a product. It is a myth that organic farming does not use pesticides or chemicals. You can find the “approved” list of organic pesticides here.
2) The USDA and EPA Pesticide Data Program does a great job of monitoring the environment and protecting our health: The 2013 PDP Annual Summary shows that over 99 percent of the products sampled through PDP had residues below the EPA tolerances. Residues exceeding the set tolerances were only detected in 0.23 percent of the samples!!!
3) Organic foods have NOT been proven to be safer: Fruits and vegetables labeled as organic are grown with fertilizers and pesticides, the same as conventional farming, however the pesticides that are allowed to be used are different (although, many synthetic chemical agents are actually “exempt” and allowed in organic farming) between the two production methods. “Organic” pesticides can be more toxic than their synthetic counterparts.
4) Organic pesticides can pose the same health risks as nonorganic ones. For example, neem oil, a bug killer, is considered “natural” because the substance is found in the seeds of a tree, but “natural” doesn’t mean safe. Neem oil is known to cause seizures and comas in humans if consumed in large doses, and it kills bumblebees at very low concentrations. Copper sulfate, elemental sulfur, borax and borates are all known to cause some harm to humans and are approved members of the organic list. Among “synthetic” pesticides, pyrethrums are still allowed, and Vitamin C that is chemically derived (and therefore synthetic) is allowed, as are various forms of alcohol.
5) Organic pesticides often need to be applied more frequently than their synthetic counterparts: Many people think that organic farming is inherently gentler to the environment, and that organic farming practices are designed to be more sustainable, emphasizing conservation and reducing pollutants. But that is a myth. The equation is simple really: the same outcome, pest management must be achieved, so more pounds or applications of less toxic compounds are used to achieve the same effect.
6) Pesticide residues are often present at unacceptable tolerance levels on organic fruits and vegetables and these results have been independently analyzed. In a larger 2014 USDA survey, over 10,000 samples of 15 crops were taken from ordinary retail food channels. The scientists then used extremely sensitive laboratory methods to check for traces of hundreds of different chemicals. 409 of the samples were labeled as organic, and residues were detected in 87 of them. Thus 21% of the organic samples had detectable residues representing 142 detections in 78 crop/chemical combinations. That detection percent is lower than for conventional, but the PDP testing does not have the capacity to detect several of the most commonly used, organic-approved pesticides like sulfur, copper compounds, mineral oils or Bt. However, the other 40 of the 41 different pesticides detected on the organic foods were synthetic chemicals that are not approved for use on organic.
Below are some very important words taken from the pilot study. The take home message here is, whatever type of produce you buy, please wash it thoroughly!
“In the pilot study, 327 samples (57.3 percent) had no detectable levels of pesticide residue and 244 samples (42.7 percent) had detectable pesticide levels. Of the 244 samples with detectable pesticide levels, 21 samples had values that were greater than 5 percent of EPA tolerance levels and in violation of the USDA organic regulations. The values of the other 223 samples with detectable residues were less than 5 percent of the EPA tolerance level. This outcome was consistent with the results from previous studies and reviews. The pilot study was an observational study that was not designed to collect and analyze data representative of the organic industry as a whole. It focused on method feasibility. However, the pilot study did identify specific areas of concern that warrant increased scrutiny to prevent contamination. The residue detections varied widely by commodity:
Apples. Two pesticides, diphenylamine and thiabendazole, were present within the allowed range (but over 0.01 ppm) for several samples. Diphenylamine and thiabendazole are applied post harvest within the apple packing sheds to control scald (diphenylamine) or disease (thiabendazole). The levels of these compounds indicate inadequate separation and cleaning within organic packing houses. Additionally, three apple samples contained residues of chlorpyrifos—an insecticide used in conventional apple production—at 0.001 ppm. These residues most likely indicate pesticide drift from neighboring orchards.
Bell peppers. Thirteen samples were in violation of the USDA organic regulations for having levels over 5 percent of the EPA tolerance for at least one pesticide. These violations were scattered across 12 pesticides, with 3 samples having levels in violation for 2 pesticides. The high levels and number of detections indicate that some samples may have been mislabeled, improperly handled, or misrepresented as organic.
Broccoli. No broccoli samples were in violation, nor were any detections over 0.01 ppm. 7 Potatoes. One potato sample was in violation of the USDA organic regulations. Over half of detections in the compliant range (under 5 percent of the EPA tolerance level) came from potatoes containing chlorpropham, a post harvest sprout inhibitor used when storing conventional potatoes. This pesticide’s label cautions that the product may remain active up to 6 months post use. Separate storage areas or documented clean out procedures are already required for organic products, but these results show that additional efforts to separate organic potatoes are necessary.
Strawberries. Two strawberry samples were in violation of the USDA organic regulations. Additionally, one pesticide, piperonyl butoxide, was present at allowed levels (but over 0.01 ppm) in several samples.
Tomatoes. Four tomato samples were in violation of the USDA organic regulations. Additionally, two pesticides, imidacloprid and piperonyl butoxide, were present at allowed levels (but over 0.01 ppm) in several samples.”
7) Organic foods are no “healthier” than conventionally produced foods: Many people seem to think that organic foods might be higher in nutrients than their traditional counterparts, however, the published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or safer than conventional foods.
It has been proposed that foods produced under organic systems have to “work harder” to defend themselves from the environment, therefore, they must be making more of the antioxidants, phytochemicals, and micronutrients that will make them healthier choices, however, it has been shown that organic versus conventional management systems contribute the smallest source of nutrient variation when compared to plant genotype, growth region, or spring vs. fall season. That doesn’t mean there is NO variation, it just means that organic vs. non organic contributes the LEAST amount of variation, and these small amounts likely have no significant impact on the health of people in a well-fed country, such as ours (if there is any effect at all on human health).
8) Organic food is expensive: “Organic” is a $32 billion dollar a year industry. Many people think that they are buying from small family-owned farms, however, most seemingly quaintly named organic labels, are actually owned by big corporations, and they are no longer managed by their organic founders. When you pay a premium for organic food, often you are assuming that you are supporting a family farm. A better way to do that is to buy local, if that is your motivation.
9) 99.9% of all of the pesticides you eat are produced by the plant ITSELF. It has been estimated that we consume 1.5 grams of natural pesticides per person per day (based on the content of toxins in the major plant foods (e.g., 13 g of roasted coffee per person per day contains about 765 mg of chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and caffeine; see refs. 22 and 23 and Table 2). Phenolics from other plants are estimated to contribute another several hundred milligrams of toxins. Flavonoids and glucosinolates account for several hundred milligrams; potato and tomato toxins may contribute another hundred, and saponins from legumes another hundred.) Are natural pesticides safer than synthetics? Of all the chemicals tested for chronic cancer tests in animals, only 5 percent have been natural pesticides and half of these were carcinogenic.
10) Lastly, “Organic” often means non-GMO. One cannot legitimately take a pro-science position on the environment and an anti-science position on GMOs. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (Isaaa.org), the positive impacts of crop biotechnology equate to removing 11.9 million cars of the road for one year.
“The reason why 90 percent of American farmers have embraced biotechnology is because it has substantially reduced their carbon footprint, while improving yields, farmer safety, and the environment at the same time. Use of GMO crops benefit the environment in 3 ways:”
1) Much safer herbicide products to control weeds.
2) No-till farming, crop rotation, cover crops keep carbon in the soil and conserves organic matter, and further protects the topsoil.
3) Practically eliminates the need for insecticides.
There is so little non-GMO corn and soy available in the US, that most organic corn and soy are imported from Canada, China, and India. So buying organic often means cutting American farmers out of the economy.
“Conventional eggplant farmers in Bangladesh are forced to spray their crops as many as 140 times during the growing season, and pesticide poisoning is a chronic health problem in rural areas. But because Bt brinjal is a hated G.M.O., or genetically modified organism, it is Public Enemy No.1 to environmental groups everywhere.”
Graphic Credit: Genetic Literacy Project.