This article is from Dr. Furhman:
There is not a definite “yes” or “no” answer to this question. It depends on multiple factors including the consumer’s stage of life and more. There may be important time periods at which people are more vulnerable to the potential harm of pesticide residues on our food: just prior to conception, during pregnancy, and during early childhood. There is evidence that organophosphate pesticide exposure during these time periods is associated with deficits in cognitive and behavioral development in children.1
Also, there are some clear environmental benefits to buying organic produce. However, it is unclear whether there are health risks to consumers from ingesting pesticides from conventional produce. Nevertheless, there are some produce that more clearly should be, if possible, organic as noted by the, the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Each year they release their “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists. Using pesticide residue data from the USDA, the EWG ranks the highest and lowest pesticide fruits and vegetables. They recommend buying the organic versions of the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list to minimize exposure to synthetic pesticides.
What is organic agriculture?
This form of growing produce utilizes crop rotation, compost and manure as fertilizers, soil and water conservation practices, and natural methods for managing pests, such as plant-derived, biological, or mineral-based pesticides, and no synthetic pesticides. Some of the goals of organic agriculture, according to the USDA’s organic program, are to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.
There is very little pesticide residue on vegetables and fruits, even those on the Dirty Dozen list. The Environmental Protection Agency sets limits for safe consumption of pesticides; they estimate an exposure level called the chronic reference dose, the amount of a chemical a person could be exposed to daily throughout life without any harmful effects.
A 2011 study estimated typical amounts of exposure to synthetic pesticides based on the USDA’s pesticide residue data for fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list. They found that most pesticides were present at amounts one thousand times smaller than the chronic reference dose. Even the highest pesticide residue detected was only 2 percent of the chronic reference dose. This puts the Dirty Dozen list in perspective: it means that even the highest pesticide conventional produce is very low in pesticides.
Is that small amount of synthetic pesticide any risk to consumers?
Some scientists think that pesticide residues do not pose health risks, because humans and other animals are exposed to small amounts of naturally occurring toxins in every plant food we eat. The body regularly breaks down self-produced metabolic wastes and naturally occurring carcinogens in foods, as well as pesticides, and excretes these harmful substances.
Greater concentrations of urinary metabolites* of synthetic pesticides have been found in frequent consumers of conventional produce compared to frequent consumers of organic produce, and several short-term dietary intervention studies have shown that switching conventional foods for organic foods reduces urinary pesticide metabolites. However, the evidence is lacking whether any significant health benefit is gained by consuming organic instead of conventional produce.
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