September is National Organic Harvest Month and I have a confession. I haven’t really been buying organic fruits lately! Anything I can peel, I have just buying conventional. Most of the reason is because we are a one income family and food is ridiculously expensive. Buying organic apples for $2.50 a pound gets a little costly! And who wants to spend $11.00 on a bag of organic grapes.
As strange as it sounds, my husband does not believe in organic food. He thinks it is a scam designed so that growers and grocery stores can charge more money. When I was working, I would always buy organic everything but now that my husband is footing the grocery bill, I have started thinking a little more openly about things. You see, he is a man who thinks outside the box. While it is often frustrating when he does not agree with things I am passionate about, spending your life with someone calls for compromise and respecting each other. And honestly, a lot of the time he is right about things. So I started thinking, how do they grow organic produce? There is a ton of wax on my organic apple – do I want to be eating wax? And what else are they using to sell these? Is organic really better than the conventional counterparts?
The details on Conventional Produce.
Pesticides. The most obvious factor when considering whether or not to purchase organic produce is the avoidance of chemicals. Growers of conventional produce will use two main types of chemicals:
- Neurotoxic – These pesticides attack the nervous system of the creature consuming them. According to the Pesticide Awareness Network of North America (PANNA):
“93% of Americans tested by the CDC had metabolites of chlorpyrifos — a neurotoxic insecticide — in their urine. Banned from home use because of its risks to children, chlorpyrifos is part of a family of pesticides (organophosphates) linked to ADHD. Chlorpyrifos remains one of the most widely used pesticides in U.S. agriculture.” (Source)
- Estrogenic – This type of pesticides elevate estrogen levels so that the creatures consuming them cannot reproduce. DDT is an example of an estrogenic pesticide. Although DDT has not been used in the united States since before 1972, most Americans still have degradants of the chemical present in their bodies. Panna.org explains, “DDT is a long-lasting persistent organic pollutant (POP) that bio-accumulates up the food chain and can be found in most butter and milk.” (Source)
According to the website What’s On My Food, a conventionally grown apple had residues of 47 different pesticides on it, per to their analysis of 2010 United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program reports. Check the link here, its actually a cool website. Many of these chemicals are hormone disrupting, carcinogenic and/or disruptive of the reproductive system.
Although many food products reportedly contain pesticides at or below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety standards, this still poses a problem. According to Health and Fitness Expert Paul Check, “Most people think its safe to eat these foods in the recommended safe limits but that’s dangerous to believe… research shows very clearly that the immune system cannot recognize these toxic chemicals in micro doses such as parts per billion, but they do still affect the body by potentially damaging our genetics and other things. Because the doses are low, the immune system does not see them and they don’t get cleaned out. Once the dose reaches a high enough level the body can react to it.” (Source)
One of the most alarming facts about consuming pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals sprayed on our produce is that our children are the most at risk for harm. Most of these chemicals bio-accumulate, which means overtime they become concentrated inside the bodies of living things. Pesticides can pass the placenta, exposing a child before they are even born to the potential neurological and estrogenic harm of these chemicals. (Source) The United States EPA warns:
“Infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for several reasons:
- their internal organs are still developing and maturing,
- in relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
- certain behaviors–such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths–increase a child’s exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.
Pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth. Another way pesticides may cause harm is if a child’s excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Also, there are “critical periods” in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual’s biological system operates.” (Source)
Additionally, in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report expressing the danger of pesticide exposure to children. According to this report:
“Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. Acute poisoning risks are clear, and understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” (Source)
Can’t we just wash or peel our produce to remove pesticides?
There are a number of “Veggie Wash” products on the market, but many claim to remove harmful bacteria rather than pesticides. This is probably because washing does not remove pesticides completely, and in some cases not at all. According to a 1997 study conducted by The University of Connecticut on 12 different pesticides, washing produce with water was only able to reduce pesticide residue on the surface of 9 out of the 12 pesticides. (Source) Further, washing only removes a percentage of the pesticide residue, and that percentage depends on the type of pesticide used and the type of produce being washed. Many are only reduced between 25-35%. (Source)
Peeling fruit and veggies is a good way to remove surface pesticides, however, if the produce has been sprayed with systemic pesticides, the chemicals are inside the fruit or vegetable. Mother Earth News explains:
“Systemic pesticides are chemicals that are actually absorbed by a plant when applied to seeds, soil, or leaves. The chemicals then circulate through the plant’s tissues, killing the insects that feed on them. Use of these pesticides on food crops began in 1998, and has steadily increased during the past 10 years. Unlike with traditional insecticides, you can’t wash or peel off systemic pesticide residues.” (Source)
Environment. The information above verifies that pesticides are dangerous to the health of any living creature. It comes as no surprise that pesticides are harmful to the environment. Per PANNA.org:
“When chemicals that are designed to kill are introduced into delicately balanced ecosystems, they can set damage in motion that reverberates through the food web for years.
- Honeybee populations are plummeting nationwide.
- Male frogs exposed to atrazine become females.
- Pesticides are implicated in dramatic bat die-offs.
Pesticides wreak havoc on the environment, threatening biodiversity and weakening the natural systems upon which human survival depends.” (Source)
It is also important to note that many types of conventional pesticides are Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), meaning they do not break down with time. This means they bio-accumulate in the environment, animals and people, growing in concentration as it rises up the food chain. Because these chemicals are often sprayed, it is easy for them to drift and spread to all areas of the earth. Research conducted by the Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres found:
“POPs are ubiquitous. They have been measured on every continent, at sites representing every major climatic zone and geographic sector throughout the world. These include remote regions such as the open oceans, the deserts, the Arctic and the Antarctic, where no significant local sources exist and the only reasonable explanation for their presence is long-range transport from other parts of the globe. PCBs, [a type of POP] have been reported in air, in all areas of the world, at concentrations up to 15ng/m3; in industrialized areas, concentrations may be several orders of magnitude greater. PCBs have also been reported in rain and snow.” (Source)
This is heavy stuff! Now I kind of feel like a jerk buying conventional – destroying bees, bats and frogs. We vote with our dollars, and so supporting these growing practices is supporting the widespread contamination of pesticides on our beautiful planet. Now I really want to know…
Is organic produce better?
Many consumers are under the assumption that organic produce is pesticide free. Unfortunately I have found that is far from the truth. Could my husband be right again?
The next installment in this series will focus on what organic really means and what are the safest options when buying produce for our families.
What is your stance on organic? Do you purchase certain things organic and certain things conventional? Please share in the comments below!