Many people pay about a third more to buy organic foods, all in the belief that these come with fewer or even no pesticides at all. Is that really so?
A Pesticide Is A Pesticide Is A Pesticide
Ok, you shouldn’t normally be contrarian to the very person that hosts your articles, but in the name of ec.com’s being “unbiased” I have to have a go: just recently EC wrote that organic foods come with fewer pesticides, and that is plain wrong.
Because they do come with pesticides, just like conventional food. They are different, but to your body a pesticide that is “synthetic” or “natural” is the same thing. I’ll give you two examples and explain what they are capable of: rotenone and pyrethrin.
Rotenone And Pyrethrin
Rotenone naturally occurs in a number of plants, among them the jicama vine and the family of legume plants. It is widely used as an organic pesticide in farming, but also to treat scabies and lice on humans. Unfortunately it not only kills all the bad critters, it also attacks many insects harmless for produce and in humans was shown to cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It is in fact potent enough that some tribe cultures prepare their poison arrows for hunts with it.
Pyrethrin (marketed as “nature’s insecticide”) is an insecticide made from crushed chrysanthemum flowers and has a history of being used as an insecticide that goes back centuries. Today, among organic farmers, it is one of the top pesticides they use. Yet it essentially is a nerve poison and already in 1999 the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) classified it as potentially carcinogenic for humans (PDF, pg. 19).
But They Use Less!
I have discussed this topic numerous times with those of the greener persuasion. Some it gets into a furor and they’ll spit at me that I just believe the “lies of big agribusiness.”
All they have to do to verify my arguments is go to their local farmer’s market and ask sellers of organic produce if they use pesticides, and if yes, which. I wager that the larger the farm, the more likely the usage is and that organic foods sold at supermarkets often take the restrictions of the USDA Organic certificate (PDF) to the limit.
Those capable of a bit more rational thinking will usually come up with three arguments: that organic farming uses less of these organic pesticides, that they leave fewer residues on the food, and that they are better for the environment.
Unfortunately, no. The synthetic version of pyrethrin is called pyrethroid and seven times more effective, meaning you only have to spray 1/7th of it to get the effect you want. And at least some organic pesticides degrade at a slower rate and actually have a bigger impact on the environment.
Don’t Get The Wrong Message Out!
Being exposed to high levels of pesticides in any form or shape is harmful; it simply doesn’t matter if they are organic or synthetic, period.
But what I’m really trying to get across with this is that it would be totally the wrong message if people believed that only organic fruits and vegetables are worth eating. A large part of the population can’t afford organic food and having them eat conventional produce is a gazillion times better than telling them, “oh, that apple is poisoned, don’t eat it.”
Picture courtesy of “jetsandzeppelins“.