Unless you live in a world without internet, you’ve probably seen the post on Gawker by Science Babe eloquently titled: “The ‘Food Babe’ Blogger Is Full of Shit”. As an eco-mom blogger, I follow a lot of green living & clean eating blogs, but have never paid attention to Food Babe until this came up.
I don’t doubt what Science Babe argues about the lack of evidence and sensationalist claims on Food Babe’s site. It is unfortunate that with the internet, it is very easy to get a message out without any real substance to back it up. But here’s my beef – the Science Babe Blogger is equally – pardon me – full of shit. In truth, both Food Babe and Science Babe make unsubstantiated claims.
This is what clinched it for me:
“Hari claims going organic will save you from pesticides, but organic farming uses pesticides too. Some of them are far more toxic than conventional pesticides. (Remember, the dose makes the poison. Neither apple would have enough pesticide by the time it reaches market to be harmful.)
The difference between organic and conventional? For a product that’s no healthier, organic is more expensive and they give Hari a commission.”
Okay. So it’s true that Food Babe is incorrect when she says that organic produce is pesticide-free. It is free from synthetic pesticides, not necessarily natural pesticides. However “neither apple would have enough pesticide by the time it reaches market to be harmful” is false. And so is the claim that organic is “no healthier”. Let me explain.
Are organic certification standards the same in the US and Canada?
The US and Canada have an equivalency agreement – they accept both USDA (US Department of Agriculture) organic and Canada Organic (regulated by Canada Organic Regime) certification, as long as the standards for each country are met. (In Canada, for example, sodium nitrate is not permitted, whereas in the US it IS permitted – so those USDA organic products would not be allowed to be labeled as organic in Canada.)
What does “certified organic” really mean?
No synthetic pesticides are permitted. Only natural pesticides are permitted, and in Canada, these can be found on the Permitted Substances List (compare this to conventional farming where you as a consumer have no idea what kind of pesticides are used). However, “organic producers are required to use non-toxic, integrated pest, weed, and disease prevention plans prior to considering organically approved material application. Organic producers must also mitigate risks of inadvertent pesticide drift from neighboring land through buffers or timing of plantings.” (organic-center.org, italics mine). So yes, natural pesticides can be used, BUT these are used in a limited fashion and have low toxicity levels (in the US, these are evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency). Organic farmers are also “required to conduct periodic residue testing for prohibited pesticides, contaminants and GMOs” to ensure they are up to snuff (organic-center.org).
Do synthetic pesticides really stay on produce long enough for us to ingest them?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list every year after USDA testing pesticide residue on produce samples. “Pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables tested by USDA, even when they were washed and, in some cases, peeled” (EWG, italics mine). EWG singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads for the Dirty Dozen list – this list ALWAYS has apples at the top of the list (in 2015, 99% of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue). The Clean Fifteen list are the produce least likely to hold pesticide residues. Sorry, Science Babe, that conventional apple you’re eating IS full of synthetic pesticides.
Are synthetic pesticides really that bad?
“Pesticides are chemicals that are designed to kill. [They] are not smart chemicals. Once dispersed into the environment, pesticides can affect human health, and the health of other plants and animals on the planet.” (David Suzuki Foundation)
A scientific review of 265 studies demonstrated “clear evidence that pesticide exposure increases risk to human health” (Dr. Cathy Vakil, writing for David Suzuki Foundation). These studies found links between pesticides and various forms of cancer, neurotoxicity, birth defects, and fertility. Many synthetic pesticides used in Canada “are banned in other developed countries because of their ties to cancer, reproductive disorders and acute toxicity… [and] The World Health Organization estimates that over 200,000 people die every year from pesticide poisoning.” (Ecoholic, p.63-64, italics mine)
The toxicity of a formula of pesticides (made up of several) has been shown to be more powerful than the toxicity of those single pesticides on their own (“up to one thousand times more toxic”, Mesnage et al, 2014. So claims based on single pesticide toxicity tests don’t give an accurate picture of what’s really going on. (By the way, “Roundup was among the most toxic herbicides and insecticides tested.” Mesnage et al, 2014)
Also, “the Canadian Environmental Law Association says… 90% to 100% of us have pesticides in our tissues. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment… says that, for the health of our children, our wildlife and ourselves, synthetic pesticide use should be abandoned. Period.” (Ecoholic, p.64, italics mine)
So, no, Science Babe, synthetic pesticides and natural pesticides are not equal when it comes down to toxicity.
It’s not just the pesticides – it’s the produce itself.
The USDA has documented that the nutrient value of foods has declined over the past few decades. Potatoes and tomatoes have far less nutrients than in the past because they have been bred to look nice on shelves. Choosing organic means that you are getting the heritage or “heirloom” varieties that were around before this decline (Art Wiebe, writing for David Suzuki Foundation).
Unfortunately, the science behind organic proves that the “Science” in Science Babe is also full of shit.
Hopefully the apples you’re eating are not.