North Carolina was in the top ten states (we were number 10, but still) of certified organic commodity sales in 2016. People purchase organic because they believe that it is healthier and safer. How true is this? Admittedly, this is an overwhelming question. My primary response is that more research is needed. Until then, here is a general synthesis of what we know so far.
Nutritionally speaking, some research has found higher levels of nutrients/vitamins in organic while other research has found no significant different to nutritional quality. The jury is out on that—did I mention the need for more research?
Pesticide wise, just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. Arsenic is natural. Here is an excerpt from the National Pesticide Information Center:
Organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free. The pesticides that are allowed for organic food production are typically not manmade. They tend to have natural substances like soaps, lime sulfur and hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture; some chemicals like arsenic, strychnine and tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate) are prohibited.
Well thank goodness they don’t allow arsenic, I would’ve thought that went without saying.
The EWG’s Dirty Dozen list we talked about a few weeks ago only noted the presence of residue, not the amount or the type. In 2011, Winter and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology in response to these lists. Their conclusion was that exposure to the 12 most commonly detected pesticides in conventional farming pose negligible risks to consumers and that substituting organic pesticides does not decrease this negligible risk.
After trying to make sense of this issue of whether organic is objectively (and empirically) better than convention, my sentiment is mixed. Organic farming methods have been shown to be better for the environment, they have not been confirmed to be better nutritionally, and they have not been shown to be safer. A common notion I came across in researching this was that the dose amount of pesticide is what makes the difference in toxicity. The naturally-derived substances seem to have the capability of being toxic just like the conventional ones.
So what should the takeaway be? Rinse your produce, just rinse it no matter what you buy.