Two Great Reasons to Buy Organic Foods
by Sue Gilbert, M.S., Nutritionist
Why should you consider buying organic produce and foods? Consider your health and the environment's.
Pesticides are poisons, designed to kill living things, and the accumulation of residues is greater on conventional foods than on organic ones. Studies suggest that low-level exposure to pesticides over several years can cause health problems. Pesticide-related illnesses among farm workers who handle these toxics are well documented. Immediate problems include lung and eye irritation, nausea and short-term nerve damage. Long-term risks include cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Most of the commonly used manmade pesticides are potential carcinogens. Pesticides are also endocrine disrupters that mimic or interfere with hormones. The effect on our bodies is the topic of studies now underway. A 1987 National Academy of Science report suggested that many common pesticides can cause birth defects, cancer and nerve damage, as well as disrupting the immune system.
One of the most compelling reasons to buy organic foods is for the health of your children. Their exposure to pesticides is greater than an adult's. Children eat more fruits and vegetables relative to their body weight. Their diet is less varied -- so they may consume more of one pesticide than others, allowing it to accumulate to toxic levels. Because children are exposed to these chemicals early in their life, when their detoxification system isn't fully developed, they have more years to accumulate chemicals in their body tissue. A report released by the Environmental Working Group, "Pesticides in Children's Food," concluded that the largest contribution to a person's lifetime risk of cancer from pesticide residues occurs during childhood.
Although human health risks are still not proven, and nutritional benefits are uncertain, there is no doubt that conventional farming methods damage the environment. In 1995, U.S. farmers applied 566 million pounds of pesticides to food crops and growing fields. Much of it ends up in your drinking water and in the water used by fish and animals. A summer, 1997, U.S. Geological Survey found at least one pesticide in half of the 5,000 water samples it took from rivers and nearly all the samples it took from wells.
Unlike organic farming, industrialized farming results in topsoil erosion. Conventional farming is also leading to the development of resistant strains of insects and pests. The synthetic chemicals applied to the soil are persistent, often remaining in the environment for years and putting us at risk for decades to come. As conventional farmers rely on limited varieties of crops, nutritional diversity declines and there is a greater risk of total crop damage from blight or disease.