Slicing and dicing government data
Originally Posted by wab
The 2004 PDP found four or more residues in 11 percent of the samples tested. Over 12 percent
of the sweet bell peppers tested had seven or more residues. The average conventional apple had 3.6 residues in 2004. PDP apple testing in 2003 showed that a consumer had about a 2.5 percent chance of selecting an apple with seven or more residues, and a 2.3 percent chance of getting an
apple with no residues.
suggests that organically grown produce contains significantly less residue of synthetic pesticides. 13% to 23% of the conventional stuff depending on what you count, to be precise. Of course, they use natural pesticides instead, but that's a different story.
However, I find the following caveat attached to their study more interesting. It also addresses the OP's original question:
"Isn't it true that the residues in conventionally grown foods don't pose any significant risks to health, so why does it matter if organically grown foods have fewer residues?
Risks (and safety) are relative. People who choose organic fruits and vegetables will be exposed to pesticide residues only about one-third as often, and to fewer residues, usually at lower levels, as are people who eat conventional produce. This does represent a significant reduction in exposure to toxic residues and associated risk, in our judgment.
Let's put that risk in perspective: First, we believe consumers should eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and feed their kinds plenty of these nutritious foods, because the benefits outweigh the risks. Parents should not feed their children less fresh produce out of fear of pesticide residues
. BUT, that said, which foods you choose can substantially affect your level of pesticide exposure. Consumers Union has published several previous analyses (available on our web sites) showing that certain foods (e.g., apples, peaches, spinach, green beans) have many residues, at comparatively high levels, while some other foods have relatively fewer and/or lower residues (e.g., bananas, broccoli, carrots, fruit juices). Our current paper shows that organic foods generally also have fewer and lower residues than non-organic samples of the same crops.
Another perspective: Almost all pesticide residues detected in foods on the U.S. market are within legal limits, and essentially all of them are well below levels that are overtly harmful. That is, they would give a child a dose that is substantially lower than the dose that has had measurable adverse effects in studies with lab animals. However, there is a wide "gray area" between levels that are clearly harmful, and the far lower levels that are "reasonably certain to cause no harm." Generally speaking, toxicologists apply a safety factor of 100- to 1000-fold; i.e., presumed "safe" levels are 100 to 1000 times lower than levels that cause detectable harm in lab animals. Many legal limits for residues and the doses resulting from exposures to residues in conventional foods fall in this "gray area"-they are higher than the "almost certainly safe" level, while below the "clearly harmful" level. It is the goal of national legislation (the Food Quality Protection Act) and the US EPA's regulatory programs to adjust the legal limits on pesticides in foods, so that actual exposures are kept below the "almost certainly safe" level. But this is an enormous task (there are about 10,000 different legal limits that need to be reviewed), and the EPA's work is far from completed. Meanwhile, many current legal limits and current residues found in foods are high enough to raise significant concerns: They deliver doses above those scientists can be reasonably certain pose no risk of harm. This is especially true when the combined risks of multiple residues in the diet are considered.
In sum, then, there are well founded scientific reasons to conclude that ordinary dietary exposure to pesticide residues, especially in young children, while not overtly hazardous, is not "safe enough." Consumers who would like to reduce their own and their children's dietary exposure to pesticides are reasonable in wanting to do so, and organically grown foods can be a useful choice in helping to achieve that goal."
So they suggest that exposure to pesticide residues, although "not overtly hazardous", may*not be "safe enough". On the face of it, it's not an [Edit: un
!!]unreasonable hypothesis based on what they describe above, but I wonder if there have been any attempts to test it?
The other consideration is, as they write:
"Aren't organic foods more likely to be contaminated with natural toxins, like mold poisons, or with deadly bacteria, like E. coli 0157:H7? So how can you say organic food is safer?
That's an interesting assertion, but many of the assumptions behind it are debatable, and it hasn't been supported with any credible data showing that organic foods actually are more contaminated, as far as we know. Empirical data are needed that could determine in statistically reliable ways whether there are any differences between organic and non-organic foods in terms of contamination with mold poisons, pathogenic bacteria, or other food-borne hazards. Without such data, this is a speculative hypothesis that still needs to be tested scientifically."
Anybody happen to know if that kind of research has been done since the paper was published in 2002?