Everyone loves the party game/icebreaker “two truths and a lie.”
The holidays are quickly approaching and many families will be sitting down to family dinners to celebrate. Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about conventional fruits and vegetables sold in the grocery store??
A. All produce sold in grocery stores is safe for human consumption.
B. To avoid pesticide residue in your Thanksgiving meal, only buy organic products at the grocery store
C. Humans can’t eat enough food to reach the dangerous level of pesticide residue set by the EPA.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. TRUE! When shopping for your Thanksgiving meal, don’t feel pressure to buy more expensive produce. Both conventional and organic farmers use pesticides. 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. And the EPA constantly tests the residue on produce sold in grocery stores to make sure it stays below the safety limit.
B. LIE! Organic farmers also use pesticides. In fact, the USDA found that nearly 20% of organic lettuce tested positive for pesticide residues. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. 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.
C. TRUE! 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 residue levels stay below EPA standards. In addition, the EPA regulates and monitors how farmers apply pesticides. Just how minuscule are those pesticide residues? A child could eat more than 1,400 servings of potatoes and still be within the safe level of exposure. That’s a lot of mashed potatoes! Of course, a child’s stomach can’t hold that much food so one scoop of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving is not a health risk. In fact, eating potatoes—organic or conventional—is good for children!
So all along the food chain, there are checks built in to ensure the safety of consumers. That’s something to be thankful for!