Are there less pesticides on organic crops?

Based on a recent Scientific American article, it would seem that there are pesticides on all crops. Just different ones.

Christie Wilcox, writing in Scientific American raises the question of whether there are pesticide residues on organic crops as well. Well of course there are. They are just supposed to be ones approved by the organic regulators. And a 2003 paper emphasizes that “organic does not mean safe”

She notes that the recent Stanford study showed that there are no nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. And that conventional crops have more synthetic pesticide residues than organic crops. But she points out that science does not support paying more for organic produce just to avoid synthetic pesticides.

In fact, the pesticides approved for use with organic crops are actually more dangerous. The underlying assumption of organic farming is that the pesticides and herbicides used must be “natural.” This means they must come from common botanical or mineral sources.

But “natural” in no way means “safer,” and that is her point. The word “chemicals” has taken on quite a negative connotation, especially among organic farming advocates, but everything is a chemical. And if you don’t think there are hundreds of chemicals approved for use in organic agriculture, check out the list provided by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

As Wilcox points out, we have an abundance of natural pesticides because plants synthesize them to keep pests under control, and they are all chemicals.

In her article she compares organic-approved pyrethrum and copper sulfate with synthetic pesticides chlorpyrifos and chlorothalonil, she finds that the organic-approved pesticides were both more toxic and more chronically toxic. In other words, they stay around a long time. And a recent research paper showed that the organic-approved pesticides were worse for the environment and more toxic to helpful natural enemy species.

Organic-approved pesticides are just as toxic (or more toxic) than synthetic ones, and they persist in the environment for much longer. It has been found in olives and olive oil in significant quantities. And rotenone can produce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

But, she concludes, the amounts of pesticides of either type detected in our foods is well below the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). Rather it is the exposure to these pesticides by farm workers that is of significant concern.

Surprisingly, then, the pesticide residues in our foods is so small as to be quite safe. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter whether you choose organic or conventional crops. There just isn’t any difference.

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