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New report on safety and pesticide residues on organic food

  • Subject: [cg] New report on safety and pesticide residues on organic food
  • From: Laura Berman <laura@foodshare.net>
  • Date: Mon, 06 May 2002 19:07:37 -0400

----- Original Message -----
From: "TFPC" <TFPC@city.toronto.on.ca>
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2002 2:54 PM
Subject: New report on safety and pesticide residues on organic food

Ronald Macfarlane 05/06/02 12:29pm >>>

Dear Colleagues,

Pasted in below is a press release issued today by Consumers Union,
describing a study we have done on pesticide residues in fruits and
vegetables. We compared residue data in organic, │green-labeled▓ and
conventionally grown foods, looking at frequency of detection, number of
residues and residue levels. The data show convincingly that organic foods
have residues less often, fewer residues in positive samples, and lower
residue levels, by a wide margin. Although this may seem obvious, to our
knowledge this is the first rigorous statistical analysis of empirical
residue data on this question that has been published in the peer-reviewed

Our paper will be published this week in the journal Food Additives and
Contaminants. The paper itself will be available in the online version of
the journal on Wednesday, May 8. Journalists who would like a copy should
contact Rachel Sangster at Taylor & Francis, the publisher of the journal,
in the U.K., at +44-123-582-8659. Others who want the full paper will have
to purchase a copy; you can do that by going to the Taylor and Francis web
site at www.biosciencearena.com, where there should be a hot link to the
paper, posted on Wednesday. Ordering information is on the journal's web
page; I believe it costs $18.00 U.S. for a single copy.

For those who don't need the full published paper, additional information,
including a short technical summary of the study, will be posted on the web
at www.consumersunion.org and at www.omri.org, by early Wednesday morning.

PLEASE NOTE: This story is subject to an embargo for the Wednesday morning
papers in the U.S., as the press release indicates. If you happen to speak
with any reporters about it, make sure they are aware of the embargo;
stories should not appear before the paper is available.

My co-authors and I would be happy to cooperate with the editors of consumer
magazines published by any of your organizations, if you wish to do a story
on this study.

Best regards,

Ned Groth Consumers Union of U.S.

Here is the press release:

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE Contacts: Adam Goldberg (CU) 202-462-6262 WEDNESDAY,
MAY 8, 2002, 12:01 AM EDT Amy Barr (OMRI) 303-530-2880

Consumers Union Research Team Shows: Organic Foods Really DO Have Less

WASHINGTON - Do organically-grown foods contain fewer residues of toxic crop
pesticides than conventionally-grown foods do? The answer is an emphatic
yes, according to a scientific study published today in the peer-reviewed
journal Food Additives and Contaminants. The study team included analysts
from Consumers Union (CU), the Yonkers, NY-based publisher of Consumer
Reports magazine, and from the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI),
an independent research, education and evaluation organization in Eugene,

Organic foods are grown without most synthetic chemical inputs used in
conventional farming, and many consumers who buy organic do so to avoid
dietary pesticides. But the issue has been surprisingly controversial, with
some conservative and media commentators claiming organic foods have just as
many residues as foods grown conventionally.

│We have shown that consumers who buy organic fruits and vegetables are
exposed to just one-third as many residues as they'd eat in
conventionally-grown foods, and the residues are usually lower as well,▓
said Edward Groth III, Senior Scientist at CU and one of the paper's

The paper published today is the first detailed analysis of pesticide
residue data in foods grown organically and conventionally. │Until now, the
scientific community had few empirical data to answer this question,▓
explains Charles Benbrook, a consultant to CU and co-author of the paper.
│But in the last few years, enough good data have become available to do a
rigorous analysis.▓

The authors obtained and analyzed test data on pesticide residues in organic
and non-organic foods from three independent sources: Tests done on selected
foods by CU in 1997; surveys of residues in a wide array of foods on the US
market conducted by the Pesticide Data Program of the US Department of
Agriculture in 1994 through '99; and surveys of residues in foods sold in
California, tested by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation in
1989 through '98. The combined residue data sets covered more than 94,000
food samples from more than 20 different crops; 1,291 of those samples were
organically grown. │We've pulled together the best available data on
residues in organic produce to generate a clear picture of the category as a
whole,▓ says co-author Karen Benbrook, who carried out much of the data
analysis for CU.

The USDA data showed that 73 percent of conventionally grown foods had at
least one pesticide residue, while only 23 percent of organically grown
samples of the same crops had any residues. More than 90 percent of the
USDA's samples of conventionally-grown apples, peaches, pears, strawberries
and celery had residues, and conventionally-grown crops were six times as
likely as organic to contain multiple pesticide residues. The California
data (based on tests with less sensitive detection limits) found residues in
31 percent of conventionally grown foods and only 6.5 percent of organic
samples, and found multiple residues nine times as often in conventional
samples. CU tests found residues in 79 percent of conventionally grown
samples and 27 percent of organically grown samples, with multiple residues
ten times as common in the former. The levels of residues found in organic
samples were also consistently lower than levels of the same pesticides
found in conventional samples, in all three sets of residue data.

│The results are remarkably consistent across all three data sets,▓ says
Brian Baker of OMRI, a co-author of the study. │If we take the results as a
whole, the evidence is very convincing that-as you'd expect-there are fewer
residues by far in organically grown foods.▓

The USDA and CU tests also included some samples of │green labeled▓
foods-foods that are not organically grown, but are marketed with claims
based on reduced pesticide use, or │no detectable residues.▓ Foods in this
category had residues in 47 percent of USDA samples and 51 percent of CU
samples-intermediate between results for organic and conventional crops.

The authors explored reasons why organic foods contain any pesticide
residues at all. When they excluded residues of persistent, long-banned
organochlorine insecticides such as DDT from their analysis of the USDA
data, the fraction of organic samples with residues dropped from 23 to 13
percent. Most residues in organic foods (and some of the residues in
conventional foods) can readily be explained as unavoidable results of
environmental contamination by past pesticide use, or by │drift▓ (sprays
blown in from adjacent non-organic farms). Some tested samples may also have
been mislabeled as organic, either because of fraud or because of lapses in
maintaining the identity of foods as they moved from the farm to point of
purchase. Such problems represent opportunities for producers to improve
their performance, says Baker.

What about residues of natural pesticides, used by some organic (and
non-organic) farmers? Critics of organic agriculture have suggested that
residues of natural pesticides in organic foods pose risks comparable to
those of residues of conventional crop chemicals in non-organic foods.
The paper concludes there is no current evidence to support that assertion,
although the authors see this as an interesting question that should be
pursued with better data.

│At present there are no good residue data on the botanicals and other
natural pesticides, and some of those substances definitely should be more
fully evaluated for potential toxic effects,▓ says Groth. But he emphasized
that │There is now no objective evidence of a problem with residues of
natural pesticides, whereas health risks associated with residues of
conventional pesticides in foods are well-established and the focus of
substantial regulatory efforts.▓

While the analysis for this study was conducted with no funding from outside
sources, the CU database that made that portion of the analysis possible was
developed with partial support in recent years by since-completed grants
from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Joyce Foundation, and the W. Alton Jones

A summary of the study can be found at http://wwww.consumersunion.org.
The full paper can be purchased (obtained free by press) from the publisher
of Food Additives and Contaminants; go to http://www.biosciencearena.com for
a link to the paper.


Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent
nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the
consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products
and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer
concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the
public and protect consumers.

Ronald Macfarlane Supervisor Environmental Health Assessment & Policy
Toronto Public Health 277 Victoria St, 7th Floor Toronto, Ontario, Canada,
M5B 1W2 Tel: +1 (416) 338 8097 Fax: +1 (416) 392 7418


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