By Dr. Mercola
One of the strongest selling points for eating organic food is the fact that doing so can significantly lower your exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in conventional agriculture.
Since organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, it stands to reason that organic foods would be less contaminated, and studies have indeed confirmed that those who eat a primarily organic diet have fewer toxins in their system.
Considering the fact that long-term pesticide exposure has been linked to infertility, birth defects,1,2 endocrine disruption, neurological disorders, and cancer, it's also a common sense conclusion that having fewer toxic chemicals in your body can result in improved health.
In fact, a key part of a healthy diet and lifestyle in general is the absence of toxic chemicals.
Pesticide Exposure Is Being Recognized as a Major Health Threat
Download Interview Transcript
In December of 2014 I interviewed André Leu about his book The Myths of Safe Pesticides. If you're of the belief that pesticides are safe, and therefore of no concern when selecting foods, you may want to listen to that interview, provided again here for your convenience.
More recently, a report3,4 by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics5 (FIGO), which represents OB-GYNs in 125 countries, warns that chemical exposures now represent a major threat to human health and reproduction.
Pesticides are one of several categories of toxins included in the report. Pesticides were also included in a new scientific statement6,7 on endocrine-disrupting chemicals by the Endocrine Society task force.
This task force warns that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals is such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them — especially those seeking to get pregnant, pregnant women, and young children.
When Kids Eat Organic, Their Pesticide Levels Decline
One of the most recent studies8 into organic food and its impact on your pesticide load was published in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The study included 20 children living in Oakland, California, and another 20 living in Salinas, California, the latter of which is a major agricultural community.
For the first four days, all of the children ate a conventional diet. The following seven days, they ate only organic food, followed by another five days of conventional food. As reported by The New York Times:9
"About 72 percent of their urine samples, collected daily, contained evidence of pesticides.
Among the six most frequently detected pesticides, two decreased by nearly 50 percent when children were on the organic diet, and those of a common herbicide fell by 25 percent.
Three other frequently detected pesticides were not significantly lower on the organic diet. Levels were generally higher in the Salinas children than in the Oakland children."
Similar results were obtained in the study10 shown in the featured video at the beginning of the article, conducted by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. When a family switched to all organic food, both the occurrence and the number of pesticides were reduced in all members of the household.
People Who Eat Organic Have 65 Percent Lower Levels of Organophosphates
Organophosphates (OPs) are among the most commonly used pesticides on American farms. In one of the largest studies11 of its kind, researchers looked at the diets of nearly 4,500 people living in six US cities, assessing the level of exposure to organophosphates via food.
Participants' organophosphate levels were estimated using USDA data12 on the average levels of pesticide residue found in the fruits and vegetables that each individual reported eating.
To verify the accuracy of their estimates, they compared their calculated pesticide exposures to the actual levels of pesticide metabolites (breakdown products) excreted in the urine of a subset of 720 participants.
As expected, those who ate conventionally-grown produce had high concentrations of OP metabolites, whereas those who ate organic produce had significantly lower levels.
Those who "often or always" ate organic had about 65 percent lower levels of pesticide residues compared to those who ate the least amount of organic produce.
According to lead author Cynthia Curl:
"If you tell me what you typically eat, I can tell you how high your pesticide exposure is likely to be. The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference."
Most Widely Used Herbicide Has Been Deemed Carcinogenic
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's best-selling herbicide Roundup, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, both on conventional and genetically engineered plants. An estimated one billion pounds a year is sprayed on our food crops, resulting in the average American eating several hundred pounds of glyphosate-contaminated food every year.
In March, glyphosate was reclassified as a Class 2A "probable carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO). The California's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) followed suit, recently issuing a notice of intent13 to label glyphosate as "known to cause cancer."
Ag Workers Sue Monsanto over Glyphosate Exposure
Since the IARC's determination, agricultural personnel have begun suing Monsanto over past glyphosate exposure.14 US farm worker Enrique Rubio claims nine years of glyphosate application using nothing more than a paper mask for protection caused his bone cancer,15 and Judi Fitzgerald, a horticultural assistant, sued claiming it played a role in her leukemia.
The lawsuits accuse Monsanto of "scientific fraud" in the marketing and sale of Roundup, intentionally misleading regulators about Roundup's dangers, and failing to properly warn users about its carcinogenic potential. According to Bloomberg:16
"An Environmental Protection Agency audit of Bio-Test Laboratories — a firm hired by Monsanto to test the toxicity of Roundup in the 1970s — revealed 'routine falsification of data' at the lab invalidating its studies of the Monsanto product, according to the complaints. Fitzgerald and Rubio also claim the owner of Craven Laboratories — another firm hired by Monsanto in the 1990s — was convicted of fraudulent laboratory practices in the testing of pesticides and herbicides, including Roundup."
Rubio's complaint specifically states that: "Monsanto assured the public that Roundup was harmless. In order to prove this, Monsanto championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies that revealed its dangers."
EPA Found Guilty of Violating Law When It Approved Powerful Insecticide
Pesticides threaten not only human health, but can be devastating to our precious pollinators as well. Honey bees and Monarch butterflies are two species that have dwindled due to excessive pesticide use. Neonicotinoids have been identified as being particularly harmful to these important insects, yet little is being done to curb their use in the US.
Two years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the neonicotinoid Sulfoxaflor — a move that raised great concern among commercial beekeeping trade groups, including the American Honey Producers Association and the American Beekeeping Federation. After reviewing the registration data, EarthJustice discovered the agency had not met its own guidelines when approving the insecticide, so a lawsuit was filed against the EPA.
As reported by PRI.org:17
"Courts typically give EPA a great deal of deference in these matters because they involve a fair amount of scientific expertise; the courts are often recluctant to second-guess the science. But in the case of Sulfoxaflor, [EarthJustice staff attorney Greg] Loarie says, 'the science was so lacking and it was so clear that EPA just didn't have this fundamental information, the court found that the registration had to be overturned unless and until that information is brought to bear.'"
So for now, Sulfoxaflor is off the market, but it's really quite astounding that the EPA would be so reckless as to approve a pesticide without adequate safety testing when bee die-offs pose such a grave threat to human food production. It just goes to show to what extent corporate profits are permitted to take precedent over long-term sustainability and human survival.
Majority of EU Nations Seek to Opt Out of Cultivating GMOs
While one of the selling points of genetically engineered (GE) plants was that they would reduce pesticide usage, such promises have turned out to be completely inaccurate. Since the introduction of GE crops, pesticide usage has skyrocketed, and with it, pesticide exposure via food, as these crops are more heavily tainted. Bt crops are even designed to produce the Bt toxin internally, and the plants themselves are registered as a pesticide.18
GE crops also promote environmental destruction by worsening soil quality19 and reducing biodiversity,20 both of which are basic tenets of sustainable agriculture and food security. Europe has, overall, been more resistant toward genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and that resistance shows no sign of dwindling. In fact, 19 of the 28 EU member nations have now requested opt-outs from cultivating GE crops21 — an option that was signed into law in March.
Countries refusing to grow GMOs in parts or all of their territories include: Austria, Belgium for the Wallonia region, Britain for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovenia.
As reported by Reuters:22
"The law was introduced to end years of stalemate as genetically modified crops divide opinion in Europe. Although widely grown in the Americas and Asia, public opposition is strong in Europe and environmentalists have raised concerns about the impact on biodiversity...
Under the new law, the European Commission is responsible for approvals, but requests to be excluded also have to be submitted to the company making the application. In response to the first exclusion requests in August from Latvia and Greece, Monsanto said it was abiding by them, even though it regarded them as unscientific."
More Good News: American Academy of Pediatrics Ends Partnership with Monsanto
Europe opting out of GMO cultivation may not directly benefit Americans, but it definitely slows down the global take-over attempt by the biotechnology industry, and it offers hope that we may still be able to turn the tide in the US as well. Monsanto has long been given a free pass to wield its power at will in the US, but signs of a shift can be seen here too.
For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has now confirmed it is cutting ties with the chemical technology giant, following a successful campaign started by concerned moms. (The Academy has also ended its relationship with Coca-Cola — another "win" for children and families across the US.) As reported by EcoWatch:23
"It appears that the severing between the divisive biotech company and the pediatricians association was spearheaded by Mamavation founder and 'food activist' Leah Segedie, who confronted the AAP's public affairs team after learning about this 'unholy alliance…' 'I reached out to the AAP behind the scenes to discuss the negative impacts a company like Monsanto could have on their image,' Segedie told EcoWatch...
'I believe the trust of mothers is paramount to the AAP. Partnering with a company that makes poisons for a living isn't consistent with their mission, especially when that company is the maker of DDT, PCBs, Agent Orange, glyphosate, and GMOs... They simply do not have a track record consistent with trust, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable part of our population — children,' she continued.
'I'm sure mothers in Anniston, Alabama would especially agree after the $700 million lawsuit settlement from poisoning their town. For that reason, I felt a partnership with Monsanto would be damaging to their reputation and may derail their efforts to build trust with mothers in an age of social transparency...'"
Please Help Protect the Organic Label!
During the Bush administration, the Cornucopia Institute orchestrated a pressure campaign that resulted in the removal of Dr. Barbara Robinson, a corrupt official running the USDA's organic program at the time. We now ask you to help them do it again — this time we need to remove the entire management team for the USDA's National Organic Program, the actions of which threaten to destroy the credibility of the organic label. As explained by the Cornucopia Institute:
"In September 2013, Mr. McEvoy unilaterally announced sweeping changes in the operation of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This 15-member, multi-stakeholder body was established by Congress as a buffer between agribusiness lobbyists and organic stakeholders to ensure that Big Ag did not corrupt the organic label. Mr. McEvoy has stripped much of the power from the NOSB. Along with the illegal stacking of the board with agribusiness executives instead of working farmers, this body has become a rubber stamp for corporate/industrial organics."
For more details, please see the Cornucopia Institute's Action Alert page, where you can also find links to the proxy letter, or simply print it out by clicking the button below. Mail the proxy letter to The Cornucopia Institute, PO Box 126, Cornucopia, WI 54827. Or, fax it to: 866-861-2214.
Which Foods Are the Most Important to Buy Organic?
Everyone can be harmed by pesticides, but if you're a woman of childbearing age or have young children, taking steps to reduce your exposure is especially important. Ideally, all of the food you and your family eat would be organic. That said, not everyone has access to a wide variety of organic produce, and it can sometimes be costlier than buying conventional.
One way to save some money while still lowering your risk is to purchase certain organic items, and "settling" for others that are conventionally grown. Animal products, like meat, butter, milk, and eggs, are the most important to buy organic, since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables.
Unlike conventional fruits and vegetables, where peeling and washing can sometimes reduce the amounts of these toxins, the pesticides and drugs that these animals get exposed to during their lives can become incorporated into their very tissues, especially their fat. So if you're on a budget, choose organic animal foods first.
Beyond animal foods, the pesticide load of different fruits and vegetables can vary greatly. Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program to determine the risk categories (from very low to very high) for different types of produce.24 Because children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals, including pesticides, they based the risk assessment on a 3.5-year-old child. They recommended buying organic for any produce that came back in the medium or higher risk categories, which left the following foods as examples of those you should always try to buy organic.