Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't worry about pesticides on non-organic produce

First, let’s start with the fact that organic does not mean pesticide-free. As scientist and writer Christie Wilcox explains in several eye-opening blog posts over at Scientific American, organic farmers can and often do use pesticides. The difference is that conventional farmers are allowed to use synthetic pesticides, whereas organic farmers are (mostly) limited to “natural” ones...

The assumption, of course, is that these natural pesticides are safer than the synthetic ones. Many of them are, but there are some notable exceptions. Rotenone, a pesticide allowed in organic farming, is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides. ...

Ah, but what about all those studies that suggest that organic fruits and veggies harbor fewer pesticide residues than conventionally farmed produce does? Those studies only tested for synthetic pesticides. ...

Winter and his colleagues found that, each day from conventionally-grown apples and apple-based products, Americans typically consume a dose of Thiabendazole that is 787 times less than the EPA’s recommended exposure limit. Put another way, you’d have to eat as many apples and apple products as 787 Americans eat in a single day combined in order to be exposed to a level of this pesticide that approaches the EPA’s exposure limit. ...

For other fruits and vegetables, Winter and his colleagues found even less reason to worry. ... Overall, Winter and his colleagues reported that the EPA’s exposure limits were more than 1000 times higher than the daily exposure estimates for 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable comparisons they made. ...

The [EPA] sets pesticide limits at least 100 times lower than the lowest dose that caused any sign of harm, however minimal, to animals when they were fed that amount every day for most of their lives. ... And by the way, in none of these studies were the fruits and vegetables rinsed with tap water before they were tested, yet research suggests that doing so can reduce pesticide exposures significantly. ...

There’s another important thing to keep in mind about fruits and veggies: They are chock full of a many naturally-occurring toxic compounds—things like flavonoids, hydrogen peroxide, and formaldehyde. Research conducted by Bruce Ames, director of the Nutrition & Metabolism Center at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has found that Americans consume about 1,500 milligrams of natural toxins from plants a day, which is approximately 16,000 times more than the 0.09 milligrams of synthetic pesticides we get from food every day. These natural toxins are for real, too: According to Ames’s work, the natural chemicals that are known to cause cancer in animals and are found in a single cup of coffee are about equal in weight to a year’s worth of our exposure to synthetic pesticide residues that are known to cause cancer. ...

It’s Ames’s belief that plants are exceptionally good for us in spite of the fact that they contain high levels of natural toxins—and that we certainly shouldn’t be worried about the minuscule differences in pesticide levels between organic and conventional foods. Indeed, if the research literature is clear about anything regarding fruits and vegetables, it’s that eating more of them—conventional or organic—does good things for the body.