"If people really understood the connection of environmental damage to their own lives, they would be much more motivated to preserve and protect the environment."
--Dr. Eric Chivian, director of Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, in Veterinary World, Spring 1999.
Benefit of organic
Organic agriculture protects the health of people and the planet by reducing the overall exposure to toxic chemicals from synthetic pesticides that can end up in the ground, air, water and food supply, and that are associated with health consequences, from asthma to cancer. Because organic agriculture doesn’t use toxic and persistent pesticides, choosing organic products is an easy way to help protect yourself.
Organic growers use biological and cultural practices as their first line of defense against pests. Methods include crop rotation, the selection of resistant varieties, nutrient and water management, the provision of habitat for the natural enemies of pests, and release of beneficial organisms to protect crops from damage. The only pesticides that allowed in organic agricultural must be on an approved use, with restricted use.
- Reporting on its study examining pesticide residues in foods bought around the country, Consumer Reports in January 1998 noted: "Our side-by-side tests of organic, green-labeled, and conventional unlabeled produce found that organic foods had consistently minimal or nonexistent pesticide residue."
Source: "Greener Greens? The Truth about Organic Foods," Consumer Reports, January 1998, page 13.
Meanwhile, consumers are exposed to toxic and persistent chemicals due to current practices:
- U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through their diets, according to a report from the Pesticide Action Network North America. The top ten POP-contaminated food items (in alphabetical order) are butter, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, meatloaf, peanuts, popcorn, radishes, spinach, summer squash, and winter squash. The two most pervasive POPs in food are dieldrin and DDE (a breakdown product of DDT). The use of POPs is not allowed in organic agriculture. Exposure to POPS has been linked to breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems.
Source: "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply," by Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network North America, 2000 (www.panna.org).
- "Pesticides pose special concerns to children because of their high metabolisms and low body weights. More than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 ingest at least 15 pesticides every day from fruits and vegetables. More than 600,000 of these children eat a dose of organophosphate insecticides that the federal government considers unsafe, and 61,000 eat doses that exceed benchmark levels by a factor of 10 or more."
Source: Food for Thought: The Case for Reforming Farm Programs to Preserve the Environment and Help Family Farmers, Ranchers and Foresters, pages 12-13, found at www.environmentaldefense.org/pubs/Reports. Original source: Environmental Working Group, Overexposed: Organophosphate Insecticides in Children’s Food, 1998, pp. 1-3.
- The Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has released a report urging consumers to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating to remove pesticide residues. "As many as 16 separate pesticide applications may be made on apples each year to combat the apple scab. Where possible, organic products should be chosen," it said, adding, "The advantages of organic farming are many: reduced soil erosion, retention of soil nutrients, surface and ground water that is uncontaminated by pesticides. We urge the government to enable farmers to take advantage of this economic opportunity by providing them with the necessary information, technical assistance and financial incentives."
Source: "Pesticides: Making the Right Choice, for the Protection of Human Health and the Environment," Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, available on the Parliament of Canada web site (www.parl.gc.ca), or by calling 613-996-1483 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Data from the Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica and Legambiente show consumers in Italy annually consume approximately two kilos of chemicals and pesticides from products grown through conventional farming practices. In 2000, 30 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of fruit in more than 5,000 fruit and vegetable samples in Italy showed evidence of pesticide residues.
Source: Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica and Legambiente, Oct. 2, 2001, as cited in The Organic Newsline from organicTS.com, Vol. 2, Issue 38, Oct. 4, 2001.
- Analyzing U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program data comparing the relative amounts and toxicity of pesticide residues in different foods, a Consumer Union report found that fresh peaches, frozen and fresh winter squash, apples, grapes, spinach, pears, and green beans had some of the highest Toxicity Index ratings. As a result, the Consumers Union recommended purchasing organically grown apples, peaches, pears, grapes, winter squash, spinach and green beans.
Source: "Do you know what you’re eating? An analysis of U.S. Government Data on Pesticide Residues in Foods," February 1999, Consumers Union of United States Inc., Edward Groth III, project director.
- In a May 2000 update to its 1999 report on food safety, the Consumers Union reconfirmed that pesticide residues in food children eat every day often exceed safe levels. According to the update, an independent analysis of USDA’s 1998 tests on fruits and vegetables found high levels of pesticide residues on conventionally grown winter squash, peaches, apples, grapes, pears, green beans, spinach, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
Source: "Update: Pesticides in Children’s Foods," Consumers Union of United States Inc., May 2000.
Measurable effects of pesticides in the environment:
- Toxic chemicals are contaminating groundwater on every inhabited continent, endangering the world’s most valuable supplies of freshwater, according to a WorldWatch paper. As a result, author Payal Sampat called for a systematic overhaul of manufacturing and industrial agriculture. He noted that since 1998, farmers in China’s Yunnan Province have eliminated their use of fungicides while doubling rice yields by planting more diverse varieties of the grain. Meanwhile, several water utilities in Germany now pay farmers to switch to organic operations because moving farmers to organic practices costs less than removing farm chemicals from water supplies.
Source: "Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution," by Payal Sampat, Worldwatch Paper 154, December 2000.
- A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed DDT, chlordane and some other organochlorine pesticides keep showing up in the food supply years after they were banned. Planting a garden in ground heavily treated with chlordane 38 years earlier, scientists found chlordane residues in all 12 vegetables planted, including lettuce, zucchini, potatoes and carrots. Although the residues were all within safe tolerance limits established by the government, the American Chemical Society has warned that chlordane can accumulate in the human body and lead to digestive and nervous system disorders.
Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, May 15, 2000, cited in a May 6, 2000, Associated Press article written by Philip Brasher.
- Pesticide sprays "encourage life-threatening bacteria to grow on crops," according to Canadian researcher Greg Blank in an article in the New Scientist. Researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg found that bacteria thrived in some formulations of pesticides diluted with water, growing best in chlorothalonil, linuron, permethrin, and chlorpyrifos. Blank warned that the bacteria could pose a threat to people eating raw fruit and vegetables such as strawberries, raspberries and lettuce.
Source: New Scientist, Oct. 7, 2000.
- Research by Dr. Warren Porter, professor of zoology and environmental toxiciology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and colleagues has shown that common mixtures of pesticides in groundwater are capable of altering neurological, endocrine, and immune parameters in rats and mice. The five-year study looked at mixtures of the widely used insecticide aldicarb, herbicide atrazine, and nitrate from fertilizers at concentrations mirroring those commonly found in groundwater. Researchers noted that this data and other epidemiological research suggest that such mixtures may have an effect on aggression levels and learning disabilities in children.
Source: "Endocrine, immune, and behavioral effects of aldicarb (carbamate), atrazine (triazine) and nitrate (fertilizer) mixtures at groundwater concentrations," by Warren P. Porter, James W. Jaeger, and Ian H. Carlson, Toxicology and Industrial Health:15, pages 133-150, 1999.
- A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released in March 2001 found measurable amounts of organophosphate pesticide metabolites in the people studied. In the report, CDC said that organophosphate pesticides account for approximately half of the insecticides used in the United States. An estimated 60 million pounds of organophosphate pesticides are applied to about 60 million acres of U.S. agricultural crops annually, and an additional 17 million pounds are used per year for nonagricultural uses, such as in household pest control products and in lawn and garden sprays. Organophosphates are not allowed in organic agriculture.
Source: "National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 21, 2001.
- Traces of the toxic pesticide Lindane were found in non-organic milk in the United Kingdom in tests done during 2001, according to the government’s Pesticide Residue Committee. In a report released Dec. 13, 2001, the committee found Lindane in 8% of the non-organic milk samples tested. No traces of any pesticide were found in any of the organic milk samples tested. Earlier in 2001, the committee found traces of DDT in non-organic butter, with no traces found in organic butter.
The government has proven lax in its promises to address pesticide-related problems:
- Although the U.S. government had pledged to implement integrated pest management (IPM) on 75 percent of total U.S. crop acreage by 2000 to reduce pesticide use, statistics show pesticide use actually rose by 40 million pounds since 1992. According to the U.S. General Accounting Office report "Agricultural Pesticides: Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management," chemical pesticide use, accounting for three-quarters of all U.S. pesticide use, increased from 900 million pounds in 1992 to 940 million pounds in 2000, while total cropland decreased. Although the use of the riskiest chemical pesticides such as organophosphates, carbamates and probable or possible carcinogens decreased from 455 million pounds of active ingredient in 1992 to about 390 million pounds in 2000, they still account for over 40 percent of the pesticides used in U.S. agriculture. The report noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have done little to implement their 1993 pledge to get farmers to reduce pesticide use through the promotion of IPM programs.
Source: "Agricultural Pesticides: Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management," U.S. General Accounting Office, August 2001.
- A U.S. District judge has approved a nationwide settlement between environmentalists and the Bush administration requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reassess by August 2002 the possible dangers of 39 commonly used organophosphate insecticides. Organophosphates account for about half of the insecticides sold in the United States, with 60 million pounds a year used on crops alone. Another provision of the settlement calls for a review of whether certain types of insecticides and weed-killers react together in drinking water to become long-term poisons. The ruling settled a 1999 lawsuit accusing EPA of ignoring legal deadlines to reassess the risks of numerous pesticides.
Source: The Organic Newsline from organicTS.com, Vol. 2, Issue 38, Oct. 4, 2001
Known effects of pesticides on humans and other living beings:
- "Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans, from relatively mild effects such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to more serious effects such as cancer and neurological disorders. In 1999, EPA estimated that nationwide there were at least 10,000 to 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses and injuries per year in farm work. Environmental effects are evident in the findings of the U.S. Geological Survey, which reported in 1999 that more than 90 percent of water and fish samples from streams and about 50 percent of all sampled wells contained one or more pesticides. The concern about pesticides in water is especially acute in agricultural areas, where most pesticides are used."
Source: Agricultural Pesticides: Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management, U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO-01-815, Page 4, August 2001].
- A National Cancer Institute researcher who matched pesticide data and medical records in 10 California agricultural counties reported that pregnant women living within nine miles of farms where pesticides are sprayed on fields may have increased risk of losing an unborn baby to birth defects.
Source: Technical Report, April 2001, Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides, Washington, D.C.
- The Environmental Illness Society of Canada (EISC) has developed a 29-page report providing support for declaring a moratorium on pesticide use for cosmetic purposes. The report, which EISC presented to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, notes," Pesticides have a cumulative multigenerational destructive impact on human health, especially behavior. Pesticides are a serious threat to the physical, emotional and mental development of children and future generations." Specifically: "Pesticides and other pollutants can interfere with proper sexual differentiation; they can also cause other birth defects and multigenerational health problems, such as allergies, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and cancer in the individual, that individual’s offspring, and subsequent generations." It added that a Canadian-USA study detected pesticides in the amniotic fluid in one-third of human pregnancies.
Source: "Pesticides: Their Multigenerational Cumulative Destructive Impact on Health, Especially on the Physical, Emotional and Mental Development of Children and of Future Generations—Canadian Government Responsibilities and Opportunities," February 2000, Environmental Illness Society of Canada (www.eisc.ca/pesticide_moratorium.html).
- Scientists worldwide estimate that up to 85 percent of the sperm produced by a healthy human has DNA damage, according to John Aitken, head of biological sciences at the University of Newcastle in Australia as reported in the Montreal Gazette. Scientists suspect a variety of environmental causes, including exposure to pesticides and other industrial chemicals.
Source: Technical Report, August-September 2001, Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.
- A report published in The Lancet suggests a link between exposure to organochlorine compounds and pancreatic cancer. In the research, patients with high concentrations of DDT and three major PCBs were over five times more likely to have a mutation of the pancreatic cancer gene than patients with low levels. "Although the results require replication, and do not prove a direct causal link between the chemicals and the mutation, they suggest new roles for organochlorines in the development of cancers in human beings," according to Miguel Porta, a researcher on the study.
Source: The Lancet, Dec. 18, 1999.
- The American Bird Conservancy has cited U.S Fish and Wildlife Service findings that, "Substantial evidence verifies that mortality of migratory birds and other non-target organisms occurs even when parathion is applied in complete conformance with the label." Currently, about 600,000 pounds of ethyl parathion are used annually on over 775,000 acres of U.S. land.
Source: American Bird Conservancy, Washington, D.C. (www.abcbirds.org).
Rate of usage of toxic pesticides is still significant:
- "Pesticides not only harm the health of farm workers and poison wildlife and wells; they also undercut their own effectiveness. They often kill off not only the target pest but also its natural enemies, creating pest resurgences. Furthermore, regular applications of any pesticide tend to hit individual pests most sensitive to the poison while letting the least sensitive survive and breed. So pest populations become resistant, forcing chemical farmers to turn to even more lethal poisons. In the past 50 years, more than 500 insect pests, 230 crop diseases, and 220 weeds have become resistant to pesticides and herbicides."
Source: Donella H. Meadows, "Our food, our future," in September/October 2000 issue of Organic Gardening.
- More than 500,000 tons of old and unused pesticides threaten the health of millions of people and the environment in developing countries and countries in transition, according to a report co-authored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations Environment Program released in May 2001. Poisons leaking from the stocks threaten human health, contaminate natural resources like soil and water, and make fields unfit for crop production. Among the highly toxic and persistent pesticides in the waste sites include aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, malathion, and parathion.
Source: "FAO Warns: Toxic Pesticide Waste Stocks Dramatically Higher than Previously Estimated—Calls on Countries and Industry to Speed Up Disposal," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Press Release 01/28, May 9, 2001.
- A 44-page report has shown that 4.5 million gallons of pesticides were reported used by commercial applicators or sold to farmers across New York state, a 20 percent increase over 1997. Nearly a third of the total amount used in 1998 are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as known or suspected carcinogens.
Source: The Toxic Treadmill: Pesticide Use and Sales in New York State 1997-1998.
- "Farmers will use 2.5 million tons of pesticides on the year 2000’s crops, pesticides that are 10-100 times more potent that formulations used just 25 years ago."
Source: Worldwatch press release for the 92-page paper, Why Poison Ourselves? A Precautionary approach to Synthetic Chemicals, November 2000.
- The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) in October 2001 reported that California’s pesticide use had declined for the second consecutive year. Preliminary data showed pesticide applications in 2000 totaled approximately 188 million pounds of active ingredients, compared to 202 million pounds in 1999 and 214 million pounds in 1998. Since 1996, DPR has distributed about $8.4 million to encourage reduced-risk pest management. During 2000, use of methyl bromide declined by almost one-third, while use of high-toxicity organophosphate and carbamate chemicals declined by more than 624,000 pounds from 1999. Use of reduced-risk pesticides increased by more than 185,000 pounds. However, chemicals categorized as ground water contaminants increased by about 100,000 pounds.
Source: California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (www.cdpr.ca.gov), October 2001.
- Geoscientists at Texas A&M University have found that air pollutants can be transported over long distances through wind and rain instead of being trapped in the ocean or soil, and that gaseous water pollutants can evaporate into the atmosphere instead of staying in the ocean. For example, high levels of pesticides, such as DDT, chlordane and toxaphene, are present in beluga whales from the Arctic, where they were never used. Scientists June-Soo Park, Steve Sweet, and Terry Wade reported that DDT, for instance, can volatilize into the gaseous state and be transported in the air over long distances fairly rapidly.
Source: "Atmospheric Deposition of PAH, PCB, and Organochlorine Pesticides to Corpus Christi Bay," cited in ScienceDaily Magazine, Sept. 21, 2001.
Organic Trade Association, 2008.
The Organic Trade Association is the leading business association representing the organic industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its 1700 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.
© 2008, Organic Trade Association.