Did you know that “Organic” does NOT mean pesticide-free? According to USDA guidelines, a product may be labeled “100% organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ___.” “Organic” means that at least 95% of the ingredients in the product are of organic origin, as approved on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for Organic products. On this list, you’ll find both natural AND synthetic substances are allowed for use in organic food production. In the case of pesticides, the use of naturally-based agents is allowed.
Natural does not necessarily mean safer, and synthetic does not necessarily mean more toxic. For example, arsenic is a natural chemical, one that we know is highly toxic. You'll find it on the "prohibited" list. We’ve also had research since 1990 showing that approximately 50% of known (not necessarily used) natural pesticides are carcinogenic, about the same rate as synthetic pesticides at that time. Further, research shows organic chemicals often need more application than synthetic ones to be as effective, possibly causing greater impact on the environment.
There are, however, organic practices beyond pesticide use that are very beneficial for the environment.
Unfortunate fact: CDC studies show that only 10% of American adults get their recommended amount of daily vegetables and fruits, most citing cost and availability as barriers to adequate consumption. The take-home here is that if you’re having trouble getting in enough produce, or a good variety, organic versus not organic shouldn’t be a barrier to getting there. Choose whatever options fit into your lifestyle and budget. If you shop local, talk to your farmers to learn how they treat their crops. Remember to wash all your produce, regardless. And above all…Eat. Your. Veggies!
4) Ames BN, Profet M, Gold LS. Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural). Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1990;87(19):7777-81.
5) Christine A. Bahlai, Yingen Xue, Cara M. McCreary, Arthur W. Schaafsma, Rebecca H. Hallett. Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans. PLoS ONE, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011250