Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.”
Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about pesticides?
A: Pesticides are extremely dangerous to humans.
B: Organic produce is grown using pesticides.
C: Your child would have to eat 1,500 strawberries to reach the EPA’s allowable limit of pesticide residue on fruit.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
The word “pesticide” is a broad term that captures the chemicals used to kill pests—from weeds and rodents to bugs, bacteria and fungi. Herbicides kill weeds, rodenticides kill rats and other rodents, bactericides kill bacteria, and fungicides kill fungi. When used properly, pesticides are safe.
The EPA maintains strong standards for people who apply pesticides. In fact, in 2017, the EPA revised the certification standards for pesticide applicators in order to reduce the likelihood of harm from the misapplication of pesticides.
According to a 2013 study funded by an independent watchdog group for work-related health and safety issues—agriculture workers who regularly worked with pesticides had lower than expected mortality from all causes, and in particular from all cancers combined.
Organic farmers also use pesticides. In fact, the USDA found that nearly 20 percent of organic lettuce tested positive for pesticide residues. Yet that doesn’t mean that organic lettuce was dangerous because trace levels of pesticide residues aren’t harmful to humans.
The USDA maintains a list of “natural” pesticides that organic farmers are allowed to use to control bugs and weeds. Yet “natural” pesticides are no safer than synthetic pesticides. In fact, in some cases, “natural” pesticides can be more harmful to the environment. For instance, rotenone–a pesticide allowed in organic farming–is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides.
Pesticides help farmers increase or maintain their yields using smaller tracts of land. That’s good for the earth and good for consumers hoping for lower costs on healthy food.
Both organic and conventionally grown food (which are nutritionally equal) are produced using pesticides, but this doesn’t mean you or your children are in danger. Under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), EPA must ensure that all pesticides used on food in the United States meet strict safety standards. The Environmental Protection Agency constantly tests the fresh fruits and vegetables sold in grocery stores to ensure that pesticide residues levels stay below EPA standards. In addition, the EPA regulates and monitors how farmers apply pesticides. So all along the food chain, there are checks built in to ensure the safety of consumers.
Just how miniscule are those pesticide residues? A child would have to eat 1,500 servings of strawberries to reach the safe level of exposure. Of course, a child’s stomach can’t hold that many strawberries so three or four conventionally grown (and cheaper) strawberries is not a health risk. In fact, eating a strawberry—organic or conventional—is good for children!