Over the years organic foods have taken the produce aisle by storm, yet is there anything to substantiate this claim? Although most informed individuals already know organic foods are not sustainable to the general population, there are many purported claims to the benifits of organic foods vs. conventionally harvested produce. In classic AAPN style, we are going to debunk the ever living crap out of those.
Claim Number 1: Organic foods are safer. (FALSE)
People often assume that organic produce is safer then conventional produce, mainly due to pesticide usage and that organics have the safer option of natural pesticides. 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. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency sets exposure limits for the amount of a chemical that individuals (including kids) can be exposed to per day without any adverse effects. For Rotenone, the EPA hasdetermined that people should be exposed to no more than 0.004 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. Let’s compare this toxicity to that of some commonly used synthetic pesticides, like the organophosphate pesticide Malathion. The nonprofit Pesticide Action Network calls organophosphates “some of the most common and most toxic insecticides used today.” (Sarin, the nerve gas used in two Japanese terrorist attacks in the 1990s, is a potent organophosphate.) Yet the EPA has deemed it safe, based on animal tests, for humans tobe exposed to 0.02 milligrams of Malathion per kilogram of body weight per day. This is five times more than the amount deemed safe for Rotenone. In other words, by weight, the natural pesticide Rotenone is considered five times more harmful than synthetic pesticide Malathion. The EPA’s recommended exposure limit for Glyphosate, another widely used synthetic pesticide—you might know it as Roundup—is 0.1 milligrams per kilogram per day, which means it’s 25 times less toxic by weight than Rotenone. The synthetic pesticide Captan is 32.5 times less toxic than Rotenone, and another one, Pyrimethanil, is 42.5 times less toxic than Rotenone. Rotenone is also not the only natural pesticide that out-ranks synthetic pesticides in terms of toxicity. The pyrethrins, a class of pesticides derived from chrysanthemums that are approved for use in organic farming, are more toxic by weight than Roundup, Captan, and Pyrimethanil, too.
It’s only fair to directly compare toxicities if people are being exposed to similar amounts of these synthetic and natural pesticides. Many organic farmers use pesticides as a last resort—so in theory, exposures to natural pesticides should be low. (Conventional growers don’t use pesticides unless they have to, either, though; spraying is expensive.) The problem is that farmers often “have to use a lot of the natural pesticides because they break down faster,” explains Linda Chalker-Scott, a professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Washington State University. “One of the benefits of some of the more traditional synthetic pesticides is that they have been manufactured to be more effective at lower doses.”
Indeed, in a 1989 report, researchers at McGill University grew apples using either a mixture of organically approved natural pesticides, including a mixture of Rotenone and pyrethrins, or a synthetic pesticide called Imidan. They found that, using the natural pesticides, they could achieve a 75 percent yield on their apples only if they sprayed the fruit at least six to seven times throughout the growing season; using the synthetic pesticide, they could get a 90 percent yield with just four sprays. Another more recent study compared the efficacy of two natural pesticides to two synthetic pesticides and found the organic ones to be much less effective against aphids (plant lice) than the synthetic ones. Since organic farmers may have to spray crops more frequently with natural pesticides, it’s not crazy to think that organic produce could sometimes have just as much, if not more, pesticide on it—natural pesticide, yes, but remember that natural isn’t intrinsically safe—compared to conventional produce.
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. In the few studies that have also looked for natural pesticides—the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program tested for them on organic lettuce in 2009, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation tested a handful of organic fruits and vegetables for certain natural and synthetic pesticides in 2010, and the USDA did ananalysis of organic produce in 2010—scientists have found that between 15 and 43 percent of organic produce samples harbor measurable traces of either natural or synthetic pesticides or both. As far as we can tell, however, no one has published a comparison of the overall amounts of both types of pesticides on organic versus conventional produce, so it’s hard to conclude much from these findings other than that, yes, organic produce can be pesticide-tainted, too.
Claim number 2: Organic foods are more nutritional. (FALSE)
A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives.
Scientific research team:
Margaret Brandeau, PhD, the Coleman F. Fung Professor in the School of Engineering; medical students Grace Hunter, J. Clay Bavinger and Maren Pearson; research assistant Paul Eschbach; Vandana Sundaram, MPH, assistant director for research at CHP/PCOR; Hau Liu, MD, MBA, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Stanford and senior director at Castlight Health; Patricia Schirmer, MD, infectious disease physician with the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System; medical librarian Christopher Stave, MLS; and Ingram Olkin, PhD, professor emeritus of statistics and of education.
Short and sweet, but the research results are available in the references.
Claim number 3: Organic foods look and taste better: (FALSE)
When doing a side by side real life test and even placebo controled tests, organic foods actually test lower than conventionally farmed foods. Since many other sources have already written about this in great detail, we figured it would be better to just simply provide the links instead.
A good video to this is provided by Penn and Teller on the hit show called “Bullshit” link provided:
Oh, one last thing, “organic” from a scientific definition actually means Carbon Based, not “all natural”.
Good links to this from other articles are: