Should I be concerned about pesticides in conventional and organic produce?

Emiliano Tatar, M.D.

Updated: Monday, November 2, 2015, 5:30 AM

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on organic foods. It’s a continuation of a discussion about pesticides found in organic and conventional produce.

Whether you give your kids conventional or CO produce, one fact is very important to keep in mind: all pesticides used in American agriculture are used in quantities much lower than the minimal toxic dose for humans.

Journalist and author Jon Entine, a senior fellow at the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy says, “There are some cases in which some organic foods show lower levels of pesticides, but in all cases they are hundreds or (in many cases) thousands of times below the [approved minimum] levels, which themselves (sic) are extremely conservative.” Not only that, but in some cases, non-synthetic pesticides approved in CO farming sometimes have to be used in much larger amounts to be effective.”

More importantly, parents should know that whether their kids eat CO or conventional produce, they are being exposed to pesticides albeit at doses significantly smaller than government limits. "The truth is that we have an extremely safe food system, a very functional regulatory system and an environmental movement that has helped to make very positive change," says Steve Savage, PhD, a food and agriculture speaker and writer.

In a report by Savage, he wrote: “the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Detection Program confirms that between thorough regulation, grower training and grower compliance with Environmental Protection Agency label restrictions, the fruit and vegetable in the United States from both domestic and import sources can be eaten with confidence because pesticide residues, when present, are at very low levels which do not represent any significant risk to the consumer.”

However, he points out there are some lapses in the system, “There are occasional detections of un-registered pesticides or slightly high residues on some imports like snap peas from Guatemala, but this really comes down to instances where the production is by small farmers who don't have much technical support. For most of our imports, there is the added safety factor that the producers are partners or subsidiaries of major grower/shipper brands in the US which have a vested interest in maintaining a consistent safety standard.”

His advice to us? “As a consumer and as a grandparent, the foods I specifically avoid are those where I can't be sure of their origin and where it is possible that it could be from the places [such as India and China] that don't have the background of environmental protections that are needed,” said Savage.

In next part of this series, I will explore whether CO foods deliver more nutrition, if they taste better, and if they are more beneficial to the environment compared to conventional grown produce.

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Emiliano Tatar, M.D.

Read full story: Should I be concerned about pesticides in conventional and organic produce?

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