A recent study found that people who occasionally eat organic produce are exposed to significantly lower levels of organophosphate (OP) pesticides. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified OPs as highly or moderately toxic, and exposure to OPs has been linked to ADHD, behavioral problems, other neurological disorders, and certain cancers.
Researchers surveyed almost 4,500 people from six United States cities about the types and amounts of produce they had eaten in the past year. They also asked how often participants consumed organic foods. Researchers then calculated pesticide exposure based on average pesticide residue levels for each item consumed, and the frequency of consumption of those items. The estimations were then double-checked against the pesticide residue found in the participants’ urine. While the urine test can only provide exposure information for the past day or two, researchers were able to calculate long-term exposure based on the participants’ dietary habits.
While the levels of OP residue were significantly lower in occasional organic produce consumers than in people who ate strictly conventional produce, the biggest difference was in participants who often ate organic produce. Participants who reported that they frequently or always ate organic produce had pesticide levels 65% lower than participants who did not eat organic produce.
Consumers who are concerned about exposure to pesticides have many opportunities to reduce their risk. While organic produce may be slightly more expensive at the grocery store, growing fruits and vegetables at home is a great alternative for many people. Between 2008 and 2009, there was a 19% increase in the number of United States households that grew their own produce. Washing all purchased produce may reduce the levels of ingested pesticides, though some cannot be washed off. The Environmental Working Group has created a list of produce to rank which is most important to purchase organic and which are safe to buy conventionally. Consumers should consult the list for smarter shopping.