Dare I say: Pesticides. A chat about whether or not to choose organic!

Organic-Do-Not-Spray
Photo: The Organic & Non-GMO Report

First off, if you feel like you are “all over the place” with your thoughts on this topic, that’s because it’s a very challenging topic to study. It would be “unethical” to do the kind of studies necessary on humans to more definitively say if pesticides, specifically glyphosate [from round up], is safe for humans- that’s why, a majority of the research has been done on animals. Typically, I don’t love research that has only been done on animals but you have to take what you’ve got sometimes! HOWEVER, the fact that it would be “unethical” to do it on humans should tell you something right there. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the health effects of pesticides are not well understood, but their use has been associated with conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and neurological effects. [2]

Definitions: 

Glyphosate: a broad-spectrum contact herbicide to kill weeds in fields prior to the planting of crops. It was also approved for weed control in a variety of non-crop settings. Glyphosate use is the highest of any pesticide in the USA.

GBHs: glyphosate-based herbicides. They are always used as a mixture of glyphosate plus numerous other so called inert ingredients, which are added to alter the herbicide’s physicochemical properties and enhance its herbicidal action. Unfortunately, the full list of these chemicals, collectively known as adjuvants or coformulants, is treated as a “trade secret” by the manufacturers. The composition of GBHs are unknown. GBHs have been shown to be more toxic than glyphosate.

Pros of GMOs + Pesticides: We as consumers often reap the benefits of pesticide use with lower costs and a wider selection of food and clothing. As a way of conserving food supply and lower food costs, they also help to combat hunger and related problems in various parts of the world. [2]

What we know: 

  • Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago [1]
  • The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) made the decision in 2015 to classify glyphosate as a grade 2A probable human carcinogen followed an extensive review and evaluation of the weight of all available evidence. [1] The outcome was driven by: (1) limited human evidence from case–control epidemiology studies, including high-quality studies reporting a link with non-Hodgkin lymphoma [1]
    •  (2) sufficient evidence from unpublished animal studies, which identified an elevated frequency of rare kidney tumors in male mice, hemangiosarcoma in male mice, pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats, and skin tumours and other non-malignant growths in mice and [1]
    • (3) strong mechanistic evidence, such as numerous studies demonstrating that glyphosate is genotoxic and can induce oxidative stress in humans, human cells, non-human mammals and non-mammalian species. Some of these studies also suggest increases in lymphoma in male mice exposed even to the lowest doses evaluated (14.5 mg/kg/day). [1]
    • HOWEVER. Joint meeting on pesticides residues (JMPR) of the WHO used the IARC hazard assessment evaluation (the one mentioned above, concluding that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen) to establish a safe level of exposure for humans JMPR would not exclude the possibility that glyphosate is a human carcinogen, but concluded that it ‘is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet’. [1]There is a lotttttt of drama with the conclusion JMPR came to as far as establishing a safe level of exposure. They drew their conclusions based only on studies of glyphosate alone; studies of GBHs were not included in the EFSA assessment.  The problem with this, is that GBHs have been found to be more harmful than glyphosate alone. Also, studies conducted that suggest causal links between glyphosate and cancer in exposed rodents have been dismissed by agencies including the EPA and EFSA due to speculation about a viral infection in the animal colony, even though no adverse health effects of such an infection have been shown [1]

Research:

  • Epidemiology studies suggest associations between GBH exposures and adverse health outcomes including chronic kidney disease and some cancers [1]
  • Unexplained chronic kidney disease has killed thousands of rice farm workers in Sri Lanka and sugarcane workers in Central America; exposure to herbicides including GBHs has been documented in some of these populations. Some have attributed these issues to dehydration [AKA more research needs to be had before the blame can 100% be placed on pesticides alone]
  • A number of studies have evaluated the association between exposures to GBHs and other health effects in humans including cancer. In fact, some of the most compelling studies in human populations suggest associations between GBHs and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. [1]
  • Exposure to large amounts of pesticides is usually more likely for people such as farmers who may frequently touch and/or breathe in pesticides. [2]
  • The effects of long-term exposure to small amounts of these pesticides are unclear, but studies have linked them to a variety of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and neurological defects. [2]
  •  Studies have shown preliminary evidence that chronic, low-dose exposure to pesticides increases the risk of cognitive impairments and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life [2]
  • A study of 50 pesticides and more than 30,000 licensed pesticide applicators linked exposure of seven pesticides that contain chlorinated compounds (including two herbicides, two organophosphate insecticides, and two organochlorines) to increased risk of diabetes [5].  Exposure to pesticides has also been associated with increased infertility in women and developmental problems in children [2]
  • Research also shows that pesticides may have a negative impact on the microbiome. 

Where is it BANNED + why [from organicconsumers.org April 2018]

• Belgium: In 2017, the Flemish government banned individual use of glyphosate and voted against reliciensing glyphosate in the EU. 
• Bermuda: The island outlawed the private and commercial sale of all glyphosate-based herbicides.
• Colombia: In 2015, the country forbid the use of glyphosate to eliminate illegal plantations of coca, often used to make cocaine, due to concern that the herbicide causes cancer. However in 2017, the country reinstituted its controversial fumigation program. But instead of using aerial fumigation, glyphosate is now sprayed manually, from the ground.
• Netherlands: Dutch officials have banned all non-commercial use of glyphosate.
• Sri Lanka: In 2014, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa mandated an all-out ban on glyphosate, following a study linking Roundup to Fatal Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), the second-leading cause of death among males in the country. Sri Lanka was the first country to issue a nationwide ban on glyphosate.
• El Salvador: Passed a law banning glyphosate, citing the same study linking fatal chronic kidney disease to Roundup.
• Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi ArabiaKuwaitQatarBahrainOman and the United Arab Emirates, have stopped glyphosate use.
• France: President Emmanuel Macron announced in Novemenber 2017, an outright ban on glyphosate, to take effect “within three years.”

Choosing organic + what it means:

I’m going to say something that you guys probably aren’t going to love + I certainly don’t love it either. While organic farming certifications prohibit the use of glyphosate, organic products do not always end up completely free of glyphosate residue. This is because glyphosate use has skyrocketed in the past decade, and it maintains the ability to adhere to water and soil particles long enough to travel through the air or in a stream to nearby organic farms. It’s presence in the environment is nearly unavoidable. [4]

How we see it:

The lack of conclusive evidence ruling out negative effects of chronic exposure to low doses of pesticides means that we should still work to minimize exposure to pesticides when possible [2]. Would I choose a job where I am working with round up daily and in large quantities? Absolutely not. Do we choose organic when we can? Most of the time but honestly, not always. When we eat out, we know that we aren’t being served all organic, and we are both totally fine with it. Everything comes down to – how much you’re having. Many things become toxic when you over consume. Even vitamins! The problem is that the research is not wonderful as to what that toxicity threshold is for glyphosate and GBHs. “The verdict is still out about pesticides and fertilizers as far as the long-term impact on health. There are so many other variables in the environment. It’s hard to say it’s the pesticide on the peach that was the primary cause of a health-related issue,” says Kathy McManus [Registered Dietitian, Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital].

Our recommendations: We recommend that people eat healthy by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether conventional or organic. Choose organic when you can/if you can, but don’t go broke over it + do not avoid fruits/veggies etc because of the possibility of glyphosate contamination. The benefits outweigh the unconfirmed risks. If you are planning on choosing organic but don’t know where to begin. I agree with Kathy McManus’s, RD from Harvard Health, recommendation to start with the dirty dozen + clean fifteen. The purpose is not to decide for you to choose organic but that if you WANT to choose some foods that are organic, to choose the ones that have a higher pesticide residue [typically those fruits and veggies without a tough skin and more surface area]. If you want to stick with conventional and wait for more research- that’s awesome too! Note: Research has shown that even those fruits + veggies on in the “dirty dozen” list are several orders of magnitude below levels required to cause any biological effect. As a result, the potential for synergistic effects resulting from pesticide combinations is negligible [aka even if you are choosing something conventional from the dirty dozen list, it’s still way under harmful limits]

2018 Dirty Dozen: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.

2018 Clean Fifteen [these foods had low pesticide residue according to EWG]: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli. 

Organic + Being Judgey

Just don’t judge. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Kind of my personal thoughts on choosing organic or not choosing organic. If you’re buying fruits + veggies no matter what kind- that’s a win! If you follow me on instagram, I talk a lot about my “every day” folder compared to my “once in awhile”. Same goes with choosing organic. The answer is- we don’t know if it’s 100% safe and that’s why we choose organic most of the time! A lot of people don’t want to say “I don’t know”. But sometimes- that is the answer! Can you say 100% that someone’s NHL (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) was not caused by using round up every day of their lives. Chances are, you can’t. What we do know, is that choosing organic over conventional, has likely never harmed/killed someone. Plus, some people choose organic for other reasons (ex: animal welfare, environment, or they prefer the taste). My point: don’t judge anyone’s decision to choose organic or to not choose organic. It’s their body and their prerogative. 

Towards the future:

There is current research oh glyphosate that is to be released from the EPA and FDA in 2019 on safety of glyphosate in diet. 

Want to read a little more?? I found this on Mayo Clinic:

There is a growing body of evidence that shows some potential health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventionally grown foods. While these studies have shown differences in the food, there is limited information to draw conclusions about how these differences translate into overall health benefits. [3]

Potential benefits include the following:

  • Nutrients. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce. The best evidence of a significant increase is in certain types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. [3]
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. The feeding requirements for organic livestock farming, such as the primary use of grass and alfalfa for cattle, result in generally higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of fat that is more heart healthy than other fats. These higher omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy and eggs. [3]
  • Toxic metal. Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants. Studies have shown significantly lower cadmium levels in organic grains, but not fruits and vegetables, when compared with conventionally grown crops. The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming. [3]
  • Pesticide residue. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. Organic produce may have residue because of pesticides approved for organic farming or because of airborne pesticides from conventional farms. The difference in health outcomes is unclear because of safety regulations for maximum levels of residue allowed on conventional produce. [3]
  • Bacteria. Meats produced conventionally may have a higher occurrence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment. [3]

We hope you Enjoyed! Happy Sunday! 

Research

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5484035/ [1]

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/gmos-and-pesticides/ [2]

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3791249/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880 [3]

https://www.naturespath.com/en-us/blog/are-you-eating-glyphosate-organic-farming-can-help/ [4]

https://www.organicconsumers.org/news/germany-13-other-countries-say-no-glyphosate-what-about-us

2 thoughts on “Dare I say: Pesticides. A chat about whether or not to choose organic!

  1. To add another layer of complexity, local (and therefore fresher) food has more nutrients than the fruits and veggies that are organic but traveled far. This is my primary concern in Canada since I live near Toronto and most organic produce in the stores come from California.

    Liked by 1 person

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