Is Organic Food Free of Pesticides?
No, organic food does contain pesticide residues. Synthetic
pesticides are found on around 25 percent of organic fruits
and vegetables. Such pesticides are not allowed under organic
certification standards, suggesting that not all farmers are fol-
lowing the rules (note that conventional farmers sometimes
deceive, too, as residues from banned pesticides are some-
times found on food). Still, the residues occur in much smaller
amounts than in conventional food. When organic food is said
to contain less pesticide residue, that claim ignores the “natu-
ral” pesticides organic producers are allowed to use. These
are chemicals, biological agents, and minerals found in nature
that do not need to be transformed using advanced chemis-
try and big factories. Rotenone is acquired from the roots of
certain plants, and can cause neurological disorders. Bacillus
thuringiensis is a bacteria found in the soil. Copper and sulfur
products are minerals, and are both toxic at high levels. All of
these are applied to crops to protect them from pests, and all
can pose considerable health harms if used recklessly.
How dangerous are these organic pesticides, and do they
make organic food less safe to eat than conventional food?
First, it should be noted that organic farmers in most of the
developed world can only use government-approved organic
pesticides, and these are approved because they are deemed
to be safe. There are natural pesticides that are prohibited
because of their toxicity, such as nicotine, lead, and arsenic.
Those that are allowed are usually exempt from the maximum
tolerance levels because they have low toxicity, are unlikely to
be detectable in foods, or decompose quickly, thereby posing
few health risks. Most organic pesticides must be approved
by the EPA and are subject to the same safety standards, so
pesticide residues in organic food pose no more danger than
residues in conventional food.
The consensus is that, while organic food contains fewer
synthetic pesticide residues, it does not seem to improve