Organic produce may have pesticide residue on it.

Or it may not, depending on which study you trust.

A recent Forbes article cites two conflicting sources: a recent review article in the journal Nature, and USDA. The journal, according to Forbes contributor Steven Savage, says that organic fruits and vegetables, “contain less (or no) pesticide residues, compared with conventional farming.”

But research done by USDA’s Pesticide Data Program shows as many as 40 different pesticide residues on the tested organic samples. And the levels were no lower than pesticide levels found on conventional food samples.

Show the Work

USDA did its study in 2014, collecting 10,000 samples from 15 different fruit and vegetable crops sold in retail stores … the same places the average American bags their apples and carrots. Scientists then tested them for traces of hundreds of chemicals, from formulas currently used in conventional agriculture to many that are no longer in circulation.

The results showed that, of the organic samples, one-fifth had synthetic chemical residue.

 

 

Savage notes that the organic produce did have less pesticide residue than the conventional crops, but he points out that USDA did not test for any organic-approved pesticides.

“… Sulfur, copper compounds, mineral oils or Bt. Those materials can’t be measured with the same technology used for the other chemicals, so USDA has chosen not to test for them. If they did, the detection percentage for organic would be much higher.”

And this study is not ground-breaking. Previous studies by USDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency identified pesticides in 40% of samples.

“The normal explanation of this is that it represents inadvertent spray drift or cross-contamination in harvesting bins,” Savage explains.

But this revelation doesn’t mean organic food is any less safe. The important word is “residue.” All the levels found in this study – even the ones on conventional produce – were within the acceptable limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Two Options

Consumers have two clear ways to respond to this information.

1. Trust the EPA, which says that these low levels of pesticide residues are not harmful to ingest.

2. Doubt the governmental agencies who are signing off on the safety of these fruits and veggies, and decide that even organic food is unsafe.

Even if consumers choose the latter, they are saying that no produce is better than produce that has trace amounts of pesticides. And that flies in the face of almost every food pyramid and balanced diet in existence.

 

All Chemicals are Not Created Equal

Savage goes on to break down the types of residue found on organic materials, and notes that almost a quarter of the residue was legacy insecticides, things like the infamous DDT, that’ve been out of commission for decades.

“Twenty-three percent of the detections in organic were of old organochlorine or organophosphate insecticides or their metabolites (e.g. DDT, monocrotophos). These are persistent environmental contaminants (they have been banned for decades).” Savage points out that these are holdovers from the past, and at levels that won’t affect consumers.

The rest of the residue was mostly from insecticides and fungicides, with small traces of herbicides. These, too, have not been shown to pose a threat to consumers on either organic or conventional produce.