Walking through Earth Fare, a new food market in the Birmingham area, one finds everything organic from food to health and beauty aids. This store goes a step further than some others and bans foods containing artificial ingredients plus high-fructose corn syrup and trans fatty acids. Organic foods are taking off, which makes one wonder what the advantages are when compared to conventional foods?
Simply put, organics are grown without pesticides. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, people use pesticides every day in the form of flea collars, bleach, swimming pool chemicals, and bathroom cleaners. Such chemicals are developed to rid the environment of annoying or damaging organisms, such as insects, rodents, weeds, mold, and bacteria. And pesticides are also used on food. Good or bad?
There are opinions are both sides of the issue. On one hand, pesticides help decrease crop damage by controlling insects and weeds. To protect citizens and ensure that people consume only a safe amount, the pesticide industry is highly regulated by the government. Pesticide companies must test their products to prove safety at levels used on food.
On the other hand, these chemicals are toxic and meant to kill organisms. Pesticides, though, end up not only on and in the food, but they also wind up in the soil and groundwater. Furthermore, there is evidence from population studies that long term exposure to some of these chemical agents pose an additional risk factor for health problems such as diabetes, certain cancers, and Parkinson’s disease. Farmers who handle these chemicals on a regular basis may be at a greater risk for health problems than the general population.
But not all experts agree on the risk associated with pesticide exposure. Most of us have heard of the Dirty Dozen, a list of foods that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has suggested people avoid due to pesticide residue. Carl Winter, PhD., an expert in food toxicology at the University of California, Davis, disputes this evidence and has carried out his own analysis. Dr. Winter’s research has shown pesticide levels on foods to be much lower than the EWG found, even lower than the levels that do no harm to animals in lab tests.
To make the subject even muddier, although eating organic produce may help reduce one’s exposure to chemicals, organic produce itself may have some pesticide residue from biological pesticides and the drift from nearby farms.
Biological pesticides are those that come from natural substances such as plants, bacteria, and minerals. Usually these are considered less toxic than conventional products.
Certainly there are health concerns associated with pesticide residue. Does a safe dose now mean that people are protected for a lifetime of accumulation? Will eating several types of fruits and vegetables each day outweigh any risk from pesticides? Clearly more research is needed.
If eating food with conventional pesticide residue causes worry, go for organic. But whatever your choice, please continue to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Vary the types you eat for maximum nutrition. These foods help reduce disease risk and obesity whether the produce is organic or conventional.
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The articles written by Andrea Wenger, Birmingham Diets Examiner, are for informational purposes only and are not to be used in the place of medical advice. Please contact a licensed physician or other medical professional before changing any health care routine or before starting any diet, fitness, or exercise program. Although every effort has been made to include the most current information, new information is released daily and may cause some recommendations to change.