The definition of what constitutes organic food and what doesn’t is pretty straight forward. But you can’t have a conversation about organic foods or understand why you should eat them without discussing pesticides. Because it isn’t enough to be concerned with the quality of the seed, the soil, the water and the fertilizer without a conversation about what is used to protect the food.
A pesticide is a chemical or biological agent that is designed to protect crops and plants from a variety of influences, including weeds, diseases, insects, rodents, birds, and other animals. Pesticides are meant to deter or kill the offenders as mentioned above. The purpose is to reduce potential harm to the crops and plants to maximize production yields, lengthen the shelf life of the product, and ultimately increase profitability for the producer and distributor. The problem is that you pay for this with your long-term health. Most people would not be okay with this if they were better informed.
Some pesticides kill the offenders directly on contact while others penetrate the inside of the plant and kill the target by infecting the pollen and nectar. Pesticides can be carried in the wind, so farmers and neighboring areas can be at risk. They can also find their way into the open water, poisoning drinking supplies and/or fish and other wildlife. The most severe risk for most people is that pesticides remain in or on the food we eat. We are all at risk, but children (and those in the womb) appear to have the greatest risk as it takes less pesticide to reach toxic levels within their bodies as their brains and nervous systems are still developing.
Evidence exists that pesticides are linked to infertility, cancer, birth defects, fetal death, and neurological disorders. In the U.S., we’ve seen massive increases in infertility and cancer rates as well as ADHD and Autism. The American Medical Association recommends avoiding pesticides as much as possible, for the reasons stated above as well as caution surrounding the unknown long-term effects of such use. Industry participants bring new products to market every planting season loaded with new chemical formulations. Keeping up with testing and understanding the long-term implications is simply impossible, particularly when the producing companies have such a financial incentive to keep the consumers and general public in the dark about the potentially harmful nature of their products.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), people with the highest levels of chemicals in their urine were roughly twice as likely to show a food sensitivity compared to those with lowest levels of chemicals. The increased use of pesticides, along with GMOs, could be the major reason behind the 18% jump in allergies determined by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) over the past decade.
Another problem that we are seeing is the growing resistance to pesticides by insects and other pests, so higher doses or stronger chemicals are required to be effective. Farmers who use these chemicals are trading your health to maintain their profitability.
You may be aware of the significant concerns surrounding the decline of the bee populations in the U.S., which are needed to pollinate plants and flowers. Many authorities point to pesticides/insecticides as the cause of this, which poison pollen and nectar and leads to a poisoned bee population. Butterflies, also pollinators, are being impacted as well. The loss of honeybees is alarming and of concern, to many, as they pollinate roughly one-third of all crops around the globe and up to 80 percent of crops in the U.S.
A good place to start when going organic is to avoid the top pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables, which, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), are apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, and strawberries. These are known as the “Dirty Dozen.” The main reason these twelve foods are on the list is not necessarily the type of pesticides used, but due to the thin outer skin which allows for the chemicals to penetrate and get inside the food. This make is nearly impossible to remove as no amount of washing will remove the chemicals because they are inside the food.
EWG also has a clean 15 list, which contains fruits and vegetables that have limited to no traces of pesticides and are safe to consume in non-organic form. The list consists of onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, sweet peas, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, kiwi, sweet potatoes, and sweet onions. You will notice that many of these have hard skin or outer shells, which create a protective barrier.