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Abagail Lickliter

October 23,2008



-    Organic food sales have been increasing at a rate of 20% over recent years

-     The organic food market has expanded drastically from local farms to specialty retailers; even Wal -mart has become a member of the organic food industry.  “ Organic food has hit the mainstream. And it is not just upscale marketers like whole foods. When Wal-Mart introduces its own organic brands, you know America is taking notice” (Schardt, 2007, p.1)

-    In 2006 organic products totaled more than $10 billion dollars in annual consumer sales.


Organic foods cost on average 25-50% more than commercial foods. So why are so many people going organic? Is it better than conventionally grown foods? Eliminating possible environmental effects, are organic foods safer? Healthier?

- For the purpose of this article, I am going to focus on organic fruits and vegetables since they make up 43% of organic food sales.




What is Organic anyways?


Federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990




Organic. A labeling term that refers to an agricultural product produced in accordance with the Act and the regulations in this part.


Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.



1)     “To established national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced products

2)     To assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard; and

3)     To facilitate interstate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced”


USDA has implemented a set of labeling rules to clarify the levels of food purity.

"Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."


'Organic' is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.”




A majority of consumers do not feel, however, that foods with the USDA organic seal would mean that they are more nutritious than foods without the seal. They are equally split on this issue; almost half say the seal would indicate the food is more nutritious and almost half say it would not.


Organic Labeling

USDA's key to labeling:


100% organicà must contain only organic ingredients.

Organicàat least 95 percent organically produced raw or processed agricultural product

Made With organic ingredientsàare processed foods products that contain at least 70%

Organic ingredients. These products may not use the USDA seal.

Product With Less Than 70 Percent Organic Ingredientsà these products can list organic ingredients on front panel but may not be labeled as organic



The USDA rules were developed to bring uniformity among organic production and to help consumers distinguish between products claiming to be organic using a national standard.


Yet when the National Center for Public Policy Research polled 1,029 adults in the United Sates, two-thirds of the public was mislead by the USDA label on several matters.




During May 12 through May 16, 2000, a study was performed by ICR. 508 being males and 521 females, a total of 1,029 adults, were surveyed across the United States. The results were weighted to reflect the US population.


Question: "Would this USDA Certified Organic seal mean to you that foods that have the seal would be safer for consumers than similar foods that do not have this seal, or would it not mean this?"

- 68% said they would interpret a product labeled "USDA Certifies Organic" to be safer to eat than non- organic foods


Question: "Would this USDA Certified Organic seal mean to you that foods that have the seal would generally be more healthy for consumers than similar foods that do not have this seal, or would it not mean this to you?"

-  62% believed "USDA Certifies Organic" to be healthier for consumers than non-organic foods.


Question: "Would this USDA Certified Organic seal mean to you that foods that have the seal would be more nutritious than similar foods that do not have this seal, or would it not mean this to you?"

-          Yes, foods are more nutritious: Blacks: 59% Whites: 41%



The Organic Label is production claim. It defines how food is produced and handled

The Organic Label does not make any claims about content, safety, quality, or health




But is Organic food safer? Healthier?






Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides (Barr, 2006)


“ The primary objective of this study is to use a novel study design to determine the contribution of daily pesticide intake to the overall pesticide exposure in a group of elementary school-age children using a longitudinal approach” (Barr, 2006, p.260,)



In this study, 23 children from ages 3-11 were recruited from public and Montessori schools throughout the Seattle, Washington area. A questionnaire was used to confirm eligibility. Students must exclusively consume conventional diets and spend most of their time in one residency.  A second questionnaire was conducted in order to obtain information about household pesticides that could potentially affect child’s exposure.


Process/ Fidelity Measureà

            Time Frame:

- Each child committed to a 15- consecutive-day sampling period. The period was comprised of three different phases.

o   Phase 1: (days 1- 3) Each child continued consumption of conventional foods

o   Phase 2: (days 4-8) Conventional food items were substituted for their organic equivalents.

§  Families were able to request which organic foods they wanted in order to minimize any variations in diet not attributed to the organic food.

o   Phase 3: (days 9-15) Each child went back on conventional food diets.


Urine Sample collection and Analysis

-          Throughout the 15 consecutive days of the trial, the child’s guardian collected 2 urine samples. One void from the morning and one void before bedtime

-          Urine samples were processed in the Lab and then sent to the National Center for Environmental Health in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta Georgia.  There, metabolites for Op pesticides, pyrethroid, insecticides, and herbicides in urine samples were analyzed.


Data Management

-          A Food diary recorded daily dietary consumption for each child

-          The Daily volume-weighted averages (DVWA; micrograms per liter) of OP pesticide metabolites are calculated by measuring concentrations in the morning void combined with the evening void.


Fidelity Measure

-          Before Organic food items were implemented into the child’s diet, each item was analyzed in a USDA approved laboratory to confirm that each item was pesticide free.

-          Recruited students were considered “ not very selective about food taste and appearance so that the study protocol did not change children’s regular diet consumption pattern and therefore should not bias the study results” (Barr, 2006, p.261)

-          Because the only changes in diets were organic foods, the changes in pesticide levels were directly correlated to pesticide exposure in conventional foods.


Results and Conclusionsà

-          “ The distributions of DVWA concentrations for MDA and TCPY during the three study phases highlights the effect of organic food consumption on OP pesticide exposures on children”(Barr, 2006, p.262)

-          The variability on pesticide concentrations during the conventional diet is most likely due to the differing levels on residual pesticides between different foods.


When should you buy organic and when should you save money?


The Environmental Working group (EWG) “ranked the 43 most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables using the results of nearly 43,000 analyses for pesticides conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration from 2002 to 2004” (Schardt, 2007, p.5)


Each fruit or vegetable was given a score based on

-          The percentage of samples that had detectable pesticides

-          The percentage of samples that had two or more pesticides

-          The average number of pesticides found on a sample

-          The maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample, and

-          The total number of pesticides found


Out of the 43 testes, the top 12 most contaminated fruits were dubbed “ the dirty dozen”. By avoiding the “dirty dozen” the EWG claims that you can lower your pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent. It is either better to buy produce that is not on the “dirty dozen” or to replace the “dirty dozen” with their organic counterparts.




% With pesticides

% With 2 or more pesticides









Sweet bell peppers
























Grapes (imported)






























-          Many of these foods have a thin, permeable skin, allowing pesticides to reside within the fruit itself. Washing these produce has little effect.

-          The rankings to not take into account the toxicity of each pesticide


Can Organic foods still have detectable levels of pesticides?

- Yes, but these levels are much smaller than conventional foods. Although these detected pesticides are banned in organically grown farms, there is a pesticide drift from conventional farms. “ In most states, the conventional farmer’s right to spray pesticides outweighs the organic farmer’s right not to get sprayed on” (Baker) Extending the amount of Organic Farms poses a risk to a greater proximity to Conventional farms thus increasing possible pesticide drift. Other possible contaminants could be from trucks or warehouses.


Do these pesticides pose a health threat?



Phorate Exposure and Incidence of Caner in the Agricultural Health Study


-          The prospective cohort study was conducted to examine the claim that organophosphate pesticides posed a risk of prostate cancer.

Cohort Enrollment and follow up

-          52,395 farmers from Iowa and North Carolina and 4,916 commercial employees of pest control companies participated in the study.

Expose Assessment

-          Participants were given two questionnaires that gathered information on the days of exposure per year, the years of exposure, information of use of 50 different pesticides, personal protective equipment used, smoking, alcohol consumption an cancer history.

-          An intensity-weighted exposure days metric was calculate SAY MORE HERE


-          “ Phorate was not associated with all cancers combined. Colon caner risk estimates were not elevated using non exposed reference group…Phorate use was not associated with any other examined cancers. “


It is hard to find a link between pesticides and caner or other health problems. Every day we are exposed to tiny doses hundreds of pesticides and chemicals

 “For consumers in general, the unsettling truth is that no one really knows what a lifetime of consuming the tiny quantities of pesticides found on foods might do to a person. The effect, if any, is likely to be small for most individuals—but may be significant for the population at large” (Greener Greens).

“ The basic components that are necessary to effectively study the association between pesticide exposure and health effects are determination of the population at risk; a valid determination of exposure; verification of diagnosis, symptom, or biological marker of health effect among the population being studied; methods to link individual exposure to health effects… In attempts to study farmworker populations, these tools are often incomplete, dysfunctional, or nonexistent” (Anger p.954, 2006)

Also, challenges arise in Epidemiological studies because it is hard to identify which compounds in the food correspond to which health effects. (Rich p. 28, 2008)


Are Organic Foods more Nutritious?

-          Most studies that seem to prove this assumption are very poorly designed.  The organic and conventional crops are grown and different areas and were not of the same variety.


-          Alyson Mitchell, associate professor in the Department of Food, Science and technology at UC Davis sates that, “ Variety is critically important.”  Different varieties of tomatoes grown in the same area, in the same way, with the same handling techniques and the same amount of time on the shelf, will vary in their nutrient levels simply based on variety. Where the tomatoes were grown, what kind of tomatoes they are, how ripe they were when they were picked, if they were kept cool or not, and how long they’ve been in the store all affect nutrient levels. (Ness, 2007)





Is organic food worth the extra cost? The organic seal does not designate that a food is safe, superior, or healthful. The organic seal only denotes how the product was produced. If you believe that the pesticides used in conventional growing techniques are safe, then there will be little benefit for you to buy organic produce. On the other hand, if you worry about possible long-term consequences of ingesting pesticides, then you should probably pay extra for organic products. But do not let a fear of ingesting pesticides stop you from buy fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of eating these foods outweigh any possible risk. “Seeking out organic or green-labeled produce gives shoppers the best of both worlds: nutritious food and lower pesticide residues.” (Greener Greens) If you cannot afford to buy all organic, try to replace the “dirty dozen” with other fruits and vegetables. It is important to remember that everything with and organic label doesn’t mean it is healthy; organic cookies are still cookies! However, by looking for the organic label, you are guaranteed a diet as low in pesticide residues as possible.




Sources Used


Goldstein, Myrna Chandler. (2002) Controversies in food and nutrition.  Westport, Conn: Greenwood Publishing Group.


Top 12 Must-Buy Organic Foods. (2008, October). Epoch Times


National Center for Public Policy Research. (2000). National Survey: U.S.D.A. Organic Food Labels Are Misleading


Schardt, David. (2007, August). Organic Food: Worth the Price? Nutrition Action Health Letter, 34,6.


 Greener Greens. Consumer Reports, January 1998, 63(1): 12–18.


Alavanja, Michael C.R., Bonner, Mattew R., Hoppin, Jane A., Mahajan, Rajeev. Phorate Exposure and Incidence of Cancer in Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspective 114,8. Retrieved April 18, 2008, from JSTOR database.


Barr, Dana B., Bravo, Roberto.,Fenske, Richard A., Lu, Chensheng., Irish, Rene., Toepel, Kathryn. Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children’s Dietary Exposure to Organophoshorus Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspective 114,2. Retrieved February, 2006, from JSTOR database.


Anger, Kent W., Keifer, Matthew., Langley, Rick., McCauley, Linda A., Robson, Mark G., Rohlman, Diane. Studying Health Outcomes in Farmworker Populations Exposed to Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspective 114,6. Retrieved June, 2006, from JSTOR database.


Is organic More Nutritious?. (1997, September) TUFTS University Health & Nutrition Letter, p. 8


Ness, Carol.(November 28, 2007) Is Organic Better? It depends. San Francisco Chronicle, pg.  F.1


Rich, Deborah.(2008). Not all Apples Are Created Equal. Earth Island Journal, 23.


Craven, Heather Retrieved April, 2006.


Environmental Working Group


National Center for Public Policy Research


United States Department of Agriculture







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