Hand places sign that says FARM FRESH infront of fruit basket

Conventional wisdom would tell us that eating food sprayed with toxic chemicals can’t be good for us.

Avoiding flesh or fruit grown without poisons seems like a much healthier alternative.

Now a groundbreaking study led by researchers at UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Friends of the Earth (FOE) reveals the benefits of an all-organic diet. The study, “Organic Diet Intervention Significantly Reduces Urinary Pesticide Levels in U.S. Children and Adults” found that eating organic significantly reduces the amount of measurable pesticides present in our body.

The study was performed with many controls for accuracy.

With the help of partner organizations, such as MOSES, Georgia Organics, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, and PODER, the researchers identified four American families. The families were located in different geographic locations: Oakland, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Atlanta. The families reported that they did not usually eat an organic diet.

For the first six days of the study, they were able to eat whatever they wanted with the stipulation that it was grown and raised with conventional methods.

Conventional food can be grown with the use of thousands of different pesticides.

After eating this diet for six days, researchers measured the levels of pesticides and pesticide breakdown elements in each participant’s body. They found organophosphates, pyrethroids, the neonicotinoid, clothianidin, and the phenoxy herbicide, 2,4-D, in all participants.

The following six days all four families ate an all-organic diet: food that is certified by the USDA to be grown without any of those toxic inputs.

The families were asked to keep their diets as similar as possible to what they typically ate and just swap organic for non-organic items. During the organic week, they submitted grocery lists, and a research assistant in each location did the shopping. The participants kept food diaries and did not change the types of food they were eating.

To ensure compliance with an all-organic diet, the researches hired licensed chefs who made the families’ dinners during the entire organic week.

Once again, the families were bio-monitored and tested for the presence and levels of pesticides in their bodies.

The results were immediate and astounding.

In just six days levels of all detected chemicals dropped an average of 60.5% on an organic diet with a range of 37 to 95% percent depending on the compound.

The most significant drops occurred in a class of nerve agent pesticides called organophosphates. They affect an important enzyme that is essential to nerve function. Exposure can cause neurodevelopment disorders in small children and fetuses.

Malathion is widely used in conventional agriculture. Severe exposure can include skin and eye irritation, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, excessive sweating, seizures, and even death. When eating an all-organic diet, the presence of the metabolite for malathion decreased by 95%. That’s a 95% less malathion burden in the body!

Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic pesticide linked to increased rates of autism, learning disabilities and reduced IQ in children and is also one of the pesticides most often linked to farmworker poisonings.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation recently reported that it found chlorpyrifos-contaminated fruits and vegetables in California.

Families on the all-organic diet saw a decrease of chlorpyrifos metabolites by 61%.

Overall, a set of six metabolites representing organophosphates as a class (DAPs) dropped 70%.

Neonicotinoids are among the most commonly detected pesticide residues on food and are associated with endocrine disruption and changes in behavior and attention, including an association with the autism spectrum disorder. They are also a main cause of massive pollinator and insect losses.

Levels of the neonicotinoid pesticide, clothianidin, dropped by 83% in only six days of eating all-organic!

The pesticide, 2,4-D, is one of the ingredients brought to us by the Vietnam War in Agent Orange. It’s one of the top five most commonly used pesticides in the U.S. today. It’s associated with endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, increased risk of Parkinson’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and damage to the liver, immune system, and semen quality.

Evidence of 2,4-D dropped by 37% after just six days of eating organic!

Familes eating organic

Why is this study important?

USDA certified organic is the most transparent, highly enforced food system in the world. Organic farmers are not allowed to use chemicals that are toxic to humans and the environment.

This study clearly shows the food they produce is safer for you, your children, farmers, and farm workers.

So why aren’t we eating all-organic every day of the year? Is organic really too expensive when it comes to our health and the health of our families?

The reality is that organic may be too expensive for some families to afford on a daily basis.

It’s really a bigger problem that we have with our food system.

green tractor

The fact is that conventional food is big business with mighty lobbyists that control food and Ag policy in the U.S. These policies give subsidies to conventional farmers who continue to use toxic pesticides.

The pesticide companies themselves spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying legislators and funding false science that mislead the public about the harms of pesticides in order to keep their products in the market.

When we pay more for organic, it reflects the real cost of sustainable production, not the artificially deflated price of subsidized toxic food.

Yes, we had some wins for organic in the 2018 Farm Bill, but they represent only millions in an $867 billion omnibus bill. If we are ever going to change the food and agriculture paradigm in the U.S., we must pass laws in our cities, states, and nation that decrease pesticide use and expand organic farming.

Today organic acreage represents only about 1% of all production in the U.S., and organic food represents less than 5% of the market.

We need to make more inroads for organic in the next Farm Bill, and we must tell food companies and grocery stores to end the use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains and expand their organic offerings.

As Tara, one of the study’s participants, said, “Everyone has the right to clean organic food. That is a human right.”

Friends of the Earth invites you to learn more about the study and take action at www.OrganicforAll.org 

Watch their short video here.

Isn’t it time we all were able to feed our families an all-organic diet? Let’s do this!

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About The Author

Melody Meyer's picture

Melody is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). In this role she is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical organic issues. Her Blog www.organicmattersblog.com covers a range of organic and sustainable food issues.

She is the executive director of the UNFI Foundation which is dedicated to funding non-profit organizations that promote organic agriculture  www.unfifoundation.org. Melody serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association www.ota.com.

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