Toxic pesticides: The difference between conventional and organic foods

-by: Lori Alton

As more and more consumers discover the nutritional benefits and peace of mind supplied by organically grown produce, the organic food industry is enjoying popular support (like never before) – and healthy profits. Perceiving this success as a threat, some agribusiness groups have gone on the offensive with a “smear campaign” over the use of pesticides.

In addition to claiming that the organic industry uses scare tactics and deceptive advertising to pump up sales, many try to generate consumer fear by claiming that organic food is grown using toxic pesticides. (No kidding, they’ll stop at nothing to prevent healthy food from getting into your body)

Share the news: Organic farming uses a “least-toxic” philosophy

Organic crops are naturally subject to the same weeds, insect pests and diseases that afflict conventionally-grown crops, and organic farmers must battle pests in order for plants to thrive. But, there are substantial differences between how the two select and use pesticides, however.

In organic farming, natural pesticides and sustainable growing methods are the first line of defense against pests. Synthetic pesticides may be applied, but only as a last resort, to be employed after other (non-toxic) organic practices – such as “cover” crops and crop rotations – have been documented to have failed. Then, and only then, may pesticides be used – and they must be on a list of organic-approved preparations. In addition, there is emphasis on using the “least toxic” choice.

This means that before using a synthetic pesticide, organic farmers will opt for pesticides – such as neem oil, pepper, and diatomaceous earth – that have been derived from plant life or microorganisms.

For example, neem oil – which is derived from the Azidirachta indica tree – works on insects’ hormonal system, and doesn’t have any potential for promoting resistance in future generations of pests. Just as importantly, it is harmless to the environment. (It’s a common sense approach that every farmer should adopt)

Organic pesticides follow a rigorous path toward approval

The National Organic Program allows for the use of 25 synthetic pesticides, which include various alcohols, copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide. Conventional farmers, on the other hand, can choose from roughly 900 synthetic pesticides.

The pesticides used in organic farming must undergo stringent regulatory approval protocols. In fact, Nate Lewis, farm policy director at the Organic Trade Association, notes that organic-approved pesticides go through the most rigorous review of all pesticides used.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency determines the toxicity of the pesticide in question. The EPA is also the agency that sets the tolerances, or maximum allowable amount, of pesticides in food. Only one organic-approved synthetic pesticide, spinosad, has been assigned an EPA tolerance.

You can find more information on EPA tolerances here.

It’s worth noting: the EPA considers the overwhelming majority of organic-approved pesticides to be so safe that establishing a tolerance is unnecessary.

If the pesticide in question is synthetic, the National Organic Standards Board must review it, and then make the decision to recommend whether or not it may join the National List. The Organic Materials Review Institute then reviews the product to make sure it complies with national organic standards.

Organic farming critics target copper

Copper-based pesticides, used as fungicides on both conventionally-grown and organically-grown fruit, are a source of concern to both the USDA and the EPA, who maintain that the mineral can adversely affect soil microorganisms, terrestrial, aquatic and human life.

For this reason, foes of organic farming point to the use of copper-based pesticides as hypocritical. However, the copper formulations used in the organic industry contain lower risk ingredients than the copper used by conventional growers, as the inert ingredients for organic-approved copper must be food-grade, low risk and on the National List.

In addition, copper – an essential nutrient– is not absorbed into plants, and any residue may be washed off. And, if copper is found to be accumulating in the soil at toxic levels, its use is restricted.

Some growers opt instead for using organic-approved copper substitutes, such as Zonix, Polyversum and Regalia. Natural alternatives to copper include biological extracts such as cinnamon and clove oils.

Critics point the finger (falsely) at bacteria-based organic pesticide

Another favorite line of attack for critics is organic farming’s use of Bacillus thuringiensis, a pesticide derived from a bacterium. Foes of organic farming say it is hypocritical for organic farmers to spray Bt on their crops while vociferously objecting to the use of Bt genes in developing engineered crops.

Yet Charles Benbrook of Benbrook Consulting Services says the comparison is unfair. The Bt toxins in genetically modified sweet corn, for example, are synthesized in every cell, making them part and parcel of the plant and impossible to remove.
Organic-approved foliar Bt pesticide spray, on the other hand, consists of a preparation of weakened or dead bacteria. It is sprayed only onto the affected plants and breaks down quickly in sun, wind and rain, with no possibility for human exposure.

Benbrook, who runs an organic consulting firm, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the comparison.

“Implying that the GMO Bt is the same as the foliar spray is a lie.”

Toxic pesticides are the order of the day for conventional growers

Of the 25 most commonly used pesticides in conventional farming, 5 are toxic to the nervous system, about half are comprised of cancer-causing chemicals, and 17 cause genetic damage.

For example, 2,4-D, or 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is an endocrine-disrupting chemical used widely in agriculture for soy, corn and wheat crops. Classified as a possible human carcinogen, 2,4-D has been linked with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

And glyphosate, the widely-used chemical found in Roundup, has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization – and linked to kidney disease, birth defects, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and many other health issues.

Attacks by critics notwithstanding, organic farming offers a superior alternative to the harmful practices of conventional farming – and one that is unquestionably better for the environment.

References:

http://agritech.tnau.ac.in/org_farm/orgfarm_green_manure_neem.html
http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/40-2001/1058-bt-in-organic-farming-and-gm-crops-the-difference-
http://www.gmwatch.org/latest-listing/40-2001/1058-bt-in-organic-farming-and-gm-crops-the-difference-
https://www.nrdc.org/stories/24-d-most-dangerous-pesticide-youve-never-heard

 


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