September is a time of year when people across the country are celebrating Organic Harvest Month. Sponsored by the Consumer Trade Association, this annual event highlights organic agriculture and the growing organic products industry. It’s a great theme for this month’s newsletter as we endeavor to increase understanding and acceptance of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle based on organic and natural products.
In the case of produce, the arguments are rather compelling. According to the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Mass., there is mounting evidence to suggest that organically produced foods may be more nutritious. Research documented on their website shows that, “…organically grown fruits, vegetables and grains may offer more of some nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, and less exposure to nitrates and pesticide residues than their counterparts grown using fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.”1 This is important for good health because many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases.
In the long run, organic farming techniques provide a safer, more sustainable environment for everyone. Basically, however, common sense suggests that fruits and vegetables grown without the use of hazardous pesticides and insecticides are safer to eat. This is particularly true of organic produce, which is grown without using conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. While this is a very important point of differentiation with conventional produce, it is one of the least understood and most important considerations in choosing healthy food.
A recent study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science shows why parents should be concerned about this difference. The peer-reviewed study found that the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from their local grocery stores contained traces of organophosphates. This is the family of pesticides derived from nerve gas agents created in World War II—including malathion and chlorpyrifos, which is one of the most widely used organophosphate insecticides in the United States and, many believe, the world. According to Chensheng Lu, the principle author of the study, "It is appropriate to assume that if we are exposed to (this class of) pesticides, even though it's a low-level exposure on a daily basis, there are going to be some health concerns down the road."2
In light of this study, it is undeniable that organic produce is a safer choice. When the same children ate organic fruits, vegetables and juices, signs of pesticides were not found. And when switching from conventional food to organic, the pesticides that were previously measured in the urine disappeared within 36 hours. Not surprisingly, the pesticide levels immediately returned when the children went back to the conventional diets. While the EPA insists that "dietary exposures from eating food crops treated with chlorpyrifos are below the level of concern for the entire U.S. population, including infants and children," others beg to differ. “This statement by the EPA is simply not supported by science,” says Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist of the Organic Center, a nationwide nonprofit food research organization. Pointing to “…the almost daily reminders that children are suffering from an array of behavioral, learning, neurological problems,” he questions, “doesn't it make sense to eliminate exposures to chemicals known to trigger such outcomes like chlorpyrifos?"3
So what’s the solution? The gut reaction of some parents might be to limit the consumption of fresh produce, but that would be a big mistake. According to Lu, “It is vital for children to consume significantly more fresh fruits and vegetables than is commonly the case today." While it may not be practical for some people to switch to a 100% organic diet, parents should at least avoid conventional produce with high levels of pesticide residue. Fruits that most frequently have detectable levels of pesticides include peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, nectarines, strawberries and cherries.
Organic agriculture minimizes children’s exposure to toxic and persistent pesticides not only in the foods they eat, but in the soil in which they play, the air they breathe, and the water they drink. Choosing organic products is an easy way to help protect yourself and your family. At the end of the day, most people are very sensitive to the safety of the food they and their families eat and want to be confident that the food they consume is wholesome and will cause no harm. Going “organic” is an important step in the right direction, and they will appreciate information to help make healthy choices.
For over 30 years, Down to Earth has been offering customers a wide selection of organic and locally grown, fresh produce. While many already know that organic foods are safer, tastier and more nutritious (not to mention better for the environment), we hope you will share this information with your family and friends.