Organic food helps reduce pesticide consumption

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Among the organizations in the U.S. that are making significant efforts to make positive changes for health are the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In this article the focus will be on the work of CSPI. They publish the Nutrition Action Health Letter which is, in my opinion, one of the best health letters published in this country. It is a good source of information, and provided the impetus for further research for this article.

A pertinent question in today's nutritional world is the importance of organic foods and the dangers of pesticides. Another concern is damage being done to our planet's well-being by the way livestock are raised and fed.

Charles Benbrook, a professor at Washington State University, is a leading expert in the U.S. on the benefits of organic foods and the pesticide levels in foods.

Benbrook and others interested in this problem have devised what they call the Dietary Risk Index, which is a measure of pesticides in foods. In 1996, Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, which brought about reform in the use of pesticides in the U.S. At the present time 80 percent of the risk from pesticides is in imports.

The DRI compares the average level of pesticides found in or on food to the highest levels that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe. If those levels are equal the DRI is 100.

If one of your favorite foods has a significantly higher DRI it is not a reason to panic. The EPA has built in a significant margin of safety as far as the allowable pesticide levels are concerned.

However, even with that safety margin is considerable concern over the effects of pesticides on unborn children due to their the mothers' intake of pesticides. Also, according to Dr. D.C. Bellinger of Harvard Medical School, who wrote in an article in the April 2012 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, there should be a concern for children 5 years of age and younger.

He mentioned how the Full Scale IQ score could be hurt in children who had been exposed to pesticides before or after birth. Some experts suggest that even through adolescence efforts should be made to cut down on exposure.

Currently, organic foods cost about 20 percent more than regular foods. In the article in the October issue of the CSPI newsletter the question was posed to Benbrook that if people consume more fruits and vegetables, would they be healthier even if they didn't eat organic.

The answer was that the single most important thing was to eat more fruits and vegetables and foods lower in sugar and less of unhealthy fats and highly processed foods. The next most important thing would be to use organic vegetables and fruits if they could be afforded.

The other concern alluded to earlier in this article is the effect on our planet of the synthetic fertilizer industry.

Organic farming does not use those substances. And there are problems that come from the livestock industry. For example, for every two pounds of beef eaten there are roughly 54 pounds of greenhouse gases released into the environment.

Another problem is associated with water. According to a Cornell Science News: Water Resources study done in 1997, to raise about a pound of tomatoes it takes about 180 quarts of water.

For the same amount of corn it takes about 900 quarts of water. Producing a pound of animal protein requires, on average, about 100 times more water than producing a pound of vegetable protein.

One final issue needs to be addressed. In the Sept. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine there is an article from the Stanford University School of Medicine in which researchers purport to show that eating organic is not all that beneficial.

However, Benbrook addressed that article deftly and carefully, showing the fallacies of the Stanford article, which concluded that the published literature lacked strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods and in Benbrook's view underplayed the significance in the difference organic foods make in cutting pesticide exposure.

Here is a part of Benbrook's reply: "The analysis supporting these conclusions is flawed in several ways. The basic indicators used to compare the nutritional quality and safety of organic versus conventional food consistently understate the magnitude of the differences reported in high-quality, contemporary peer-reviewed literature.

"In the case of pesticides and antibiotics, the indicator used -- the percent of organic food with the trait minus the percent of conventional samples affected -- is not a valid indicator of human health risk."

His 12-page article, "Initial reflections on the Annals of Internal Medicine paper 'Are Organic Foods Safer and Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?'" can be found online.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 21/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.

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