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Organic Foods and Pesticide Residues

Dr. Jessica Shade is the Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center, a non-profit research and education organization focused on evidence-based science about the environmental and health benefits of organic food and farming.

Do you think eating organic is better for you? Recent studies are backing up what many thought: organic foods do indeed have a healthier nutritional profile than their conventional counterparts. And they’re also lower in pesticide residues.

This series shares some of the science behind the nutritional benefits of organic foods. Here we cover pesticide residues. Read about organic fruits and vegetables here and about organic dairy here.

Did you know?

  • Conventional crops have four times more pesticide residues than organic crops.
  • Eating organic foods can decrease your exposure to dietary pesticides.
  • It’s especially important for pregnant women and children to avoid pesticides in their food.

Organic crops have lower levels of pesticides residues.

On average, conventional crops have four times as many pesticide residues as organic crops, and several studies show that an organic diet can decrease dietary pesticide exposure

There’s been a lot of research on the health risks associated with pesticides. In adults they’ve been associated with a wide variety of disease risks, and the President’s cancer panel suggests avoiding foods produced with pesticides to decrease cancer risks.

It is especially important for pregnant women and children to avoid pesticides, because they can have disproportionate adverse effects on developing immune systems. A joint report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine suggests that environmental chemicals such as pesticides are a risk to pregnancy. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also published a paper showing that pesticide exposure can harm reproductive health.

Multiple pesticide exposure may increase risks.

Many pesticides are used in combination with others and researchers are beginning to look at this because preliminary research is finding that pesticides can have synergistic negative effects on health, where being exposed to multiple pesticides is more harmful than the effects of each individual pesticide on its own. For example, one recent study found that exposure to a cocktail of five pesticides led to increased effects.

The portion of a pesticide formulation that causes the desired killing, repelling, or controlling is known as the active ingredient. The other components are known as inert ingredients and may range from 0% to 99.99% of the total ingredients of the mixture. Their purpose can be to aid in sticking, spreading, transporting, stability or dilution. A recent study out of France found that inert ingredients could increase toxicity by up to a thousand times higher than active ingredients alone.

So, now you know: eating organic foods can reduce your exposure to pesticide residues.

Are you concerned about pesticide residue on your food? What else makes organic important to you?

References and additional info: