By Dr. Mercola
In order to qualify as organic, a product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity. Crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.
In this way, when you eat organic what the food doesn’t contain is just as important as what it does. This is especially true when it comes to pesticides. You might have wondered just how much a difference eating organic actually makes. Is it worth the (sometimes) higher price or the effort it may take to seek out mostly organic food?
Research conducted by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute found out just that. You can get the gist of the study by watching the video above. According to Coop Sverige, which commissioned the study:1
“We wanted to know more about what happens in the body when switching from conventional to organic food. The result was so interesting that we made a film to share with the masses. We want to inspire more people to eat organic – we think it’s good for both people and the environment.”
Just Two Weeks of Eating Organic May Significantly Lower Pesticide Levels in Your Body
The study was refreshingly straightforward. A family of five, which included three children, typically ate mostly conventional, non-organically grown food. For the study, the family continued eating only conventionally grown food for one week.They then switched to an entirely organic diet, which they followed for two weeks. Urine samples from all the family members were taken throughout the course of the study and analyzed for their pesticide content. After just two weeks of eating organic, pesticide levels declined significantly. According to the report:
“The results of the survey clearly show that some pesticides are absorbed into the body through diet. By choosing organic products, it is possible by and large to avoid the consumption of these chemicals through food.
Compared with the period when the family consumed conventionally grown food, the concentrations of pesticide residues decreased on average by a factor of 6.7 when the family ate organic food.
The children in particular had lower concentrations during the period of organic food consumption. Levels of most, but not all tested pesticides fell in the adults.”
Earlier this year, a separate study published in Environmental Health Perspectives came to similar conclusions. It looked at the diets of nearly 4,500 people living in six US cities, assessing exposure levels to organophosphates (OPs), which are among the most commonly used insecticides on US farms.
Not surprisingly, those who ate conventionally grown produce were found to have 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.”
Pesticide Levels Detected Below Allowable Limits… But Does This Equate with Safety?
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) insists pesticide residues on food are no cause for concern. More than half of all foods tested last year had detectable levels of pesticide residues, but most, the USDA claims, are within the “safe” range.
In the featured study, the researchers also pointed out that even when the family was eating conventionally grown food, their pesticide levels fell below the acceptable daily intake (ADI), which suggests it would pose no risk to their health. However, this assumption misses out on a key factor: cumulative exposure. According to the report:
“The concentrations measured in the urine show that although pesticides are present in the body, the levels are low and, when converted, are estimated to be below the ADI value (acceptable daily intake) by a good margin. The ADI value is the maximum quantity of a substance that a person can consume daily throughout his or her lifetime without this posing any risk to their health.
It is therefore unlikely that a single substance would pose any risk to humans. That said, the system currently used for risk assessing chemicals is suitable only for one substance at a time.
There is, therefore, no approved method for making an overall assessment of the effect of multiple chemicals simultaneously (i.e. combination effects, popularly known as the ‘cocktail effect’). There is an awareness that this is a major shortcoming.”
The USDA’s assurances of safety are also lacking, as the Department does not test for one of the most pervasive and most harmful agricultural chemicals of all, namely glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. As reported by Reuters.
“As has been the case with past analyses, the USDA said it did not test this past year for residues of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide and the world’s most widely used herbicide.
A USDA spokesman who asked not to be quoted said that the test measures required for glyphosate are ‘extremely expensive… to do on a regular basis…’
…Many genetically modified crops can be sprayed directly with glyphosate, and some consumer and health groups fear glyphosate residues in foods are harmful to human health, even though the government says the pesticide is considered safe.”
What Are the Real Health Risks of Pesticide Exposure?
More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US each year, an amount that has quintupled since 1945. This includes 20,000 products made from varying formulations of more than 1,000 chemicals, sprayed everywhere from farm fields and gardens to playgrounds and schools. In children, there is increasing evidence that these ubiquitous chemicals are especially damaging, not only at high exposure levels but also at low, chronic levels to which millions are exposed.
The CHAMACOS study followed hundreds of pregnant women living in Salinas Valley, California, an agricultural mecca that has had up to a half-million pounds of organophosphates sprayed in the region per year. The children were followed through age 12 to assess what impact the pesticides had on their development. It turns out the impact was quite dramatic, and mothers’ exposure to organophosphates during pregnancy was associated with:
- Shorter duration of pregnancy
- Decreased neonatal reflexes
- Lower IQ and poorer cognitive functioning in children
- Increased risk of attention problems in children
As the dangers of organophosphates become clear, farmers have shifted toward other supposedly safer chemicals, like neonicotinoids and pyrethroids. The former group of chemicals is a leading suspect behind the massive bee die-offs occurring across the US, and the latter have shown equally concerning health effects as organophosphates. One study tested urine samples from 779 Canadian children, aged 6-11, and even at that young age, 97 percent of the children had pyrethroid breakdown products in their urine. Ninety-one percent also had traces of organophosphate pesticides.9
A 10-fold increase in urinary levels of one pyrethroid breakdown product was associated with twice the risk of a child scoring high for behavioral problems, such as inattention and hyperactivity. And according to a 2006 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review, animal research has also shown that even low levels of some of these compounds have an adverse effect on
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