Are you concerned about what you put into your body and what goes into the environment? Rightfully so. Some chemicals that you breathe in and swallow from food and water can damage cells and tissues and lead to health problems, like cancer. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to toxins from the environment. One way some health-conscious people reduce contact with chemicals is to buy organic produce. In fact, the demand for organic produce is rapidly outstripping the supply. The perception is that organically grown produce is free of pesticides – but is this really the case?
Pesticides and Organic Produce
The reality is that organic farmers use pesticides too. In many ways, this isn’t surprising since it’s almost impossible to grow crops without a way to control bugs and pests. Most states allow farmers to use a list of approved chemicals on organic crops to protect the crops against destruction by bugs. The requirement is these pesticides must be naturally sourced rather than synthesized in a lab. Yet, the FDA still allows the use of a certain number of synthetic chemicals in organic farming as well, provided they don’t contaminate the produce, soil, or water. Examples are disinfectants used to maintain the fields.
But is natural always better? When you hear the word “natural,” you probably assume it’s safer. However, there are many natural substances that are harmful to humans and animals and can, in high doses, be fatal. For example, inorganic arsenic is naturally present in the earth’s crust and sometimes makes its way into drinking water. When the water is sprayed on crops, the crops, too, are contaminated with arsenic. Why is this a problem? Arsenic in its inorganic form is a known carcinogen. However, arsenic isn’t the only harmful, natural compound in the environment. There are numerous examples of natural substances that are harmful to animals and humans. This should dispel the idea that because something is natural, it’s safe.
For years, no one really bothered to study the natural compounds used in organic farming. Only recently have natural pesticides been more carefully scrutinized. Now, according to the Genetic Literacy Project, up to half of the allowed natural pesticides are carcinogenic. Natural pesticides are also potentially toxic to the environment. For example, one pesticide once used in organic farming, rotenone, is toxic to fish. Other allowed pesticides, including pyrethrins, fungal pesticides, spinosad, and copper sulfate are toxic to bees. Plus, if they’re safe, why does the packaging on pesticides used in organic farming still carry warning labels?
Fortunately, use of rotenone, derived from plants, is banned after research showed it caused Parkinson’s disease in rats and is toxic to the mitochondria, the energy producers within every cell of the human body. Yet, this natural pesticide was used for years in organic farming and is still used by fisheries. It’s another example of a natural substance derived from plants that is harmful to humans.
Some natural pesticides