American consumers often equate danger with the appearance of pesticide residue on food, no matter how Infinitesimal it may be. But toxicity is all about the dose.
A young mother, Melinda Wenner Moyer wrote a light-hearted, informative blog on slate.com a couple of months ago about her quest to find answers to a personal dilemma – whether organic foods were healthier for her children than conventionally-produced foods.
After a thoughtful and thorough analysis, she decided there wasn’t much difference between them, and it simply didn’t make sense to pay more for organic.
This insight did not sit well with her readers.
Below the blog were nearly a thousand comments most of which bashed and belittled Moyer as an uncaring mother and shill for big ag. Many rolled out the same tired, discredited and retracted studies we thought were long gone, yet were only suspended in cyberspace, waiting to be resurrected once again.
Moyer’s investigation was a sincere effort to find good science. She discovered that many of the pesticides used in organic, although natural, are dangerous – one is even highly toxic to honeybees. And she cited several studies in which scientists found between 15 percent and 43 percent of organic produce samples had traces of either natural or synthetic pesticides or both.
Moyer then went to the next logical step, to determine if the pesticide levels were actually dangerous.
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She wrote, “As any toxicologist will tell you, it’s the dose that makes the poison. In other words just because both conventional and organic produce are sometimes laced with pesticides doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing anyone any harm.”
She went to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Toxicology, in which researchers took a closer look at the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen, a list the EWG considers the 12 most highly-contaminated conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in the United States.
The researchers were concerned because EWG did little research to determine whether pesticide residues typically found on produce might actually harm someone.
So the scientists looked at data from a USDA study on the average pesticide residue found for 10 pesticides commonly found on EWG’s dirty dozen. Then they estimated how much pesticide an American might typically ingest from each fruit or vegetable during a 24-hour period.
Scientists found that EPA’s exposure limits were 1,000 times higher than the residues Americans ingest in 90 percent of the comparisons. Want perspective? The researchers found that to approach EPA’s exposure limit for thiabendazole, which controls disease in apples, which top EWG’s list, one would have to consume as many apple products as 787 Americans eat in a single day.
In other words, you’re more likely to expire from an asteroid impact than to get so much as get a tummy ache from eating conventionally grown apples. Unless of course, you eat 787 of them in one sitting.