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The Arguments for Eating Organic Foods

by Joseph Keon, Ph.D.(more info)

listed in organic food, originally published in issue 47 - December 1999

If you are truly motivated to protect your health and sharply reduce your risk of breast cancer as well as other cancers, you will want to make the effort to purchase organically produced fruits, vegetables, and grains at every opportunity. You will also want to choose, whenever possible, organic nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and the foods made with them. There is simply too much evidence that indicates that the agricultural chemicals that are routinely used to treat foods are toxic to humans, and some are deadly.

In Chapter 6, we reviewed some of the worst threats posed by the overuse of pesticides in our country and abroad. It is crucial that we do what we can to avoid these toxic chemicals.

Every time that you choose conventionally farmed foods over organic, you are increasing your cumulative exposure to chemicals and raising your risk of disease. If you follow a conventional diet, it is estimated that you will consume about 150 mcg of pesticides each day.[1] Yet, this does not have to be so. The fact of the matter is that there is no "acceptable level" of intake of a toxic chemical that is a carcinogen, has hormone- disrupting potential, or causes neurological damage. Moreover, each time we choose conventionally grown foods over organics, we are supporting the continued poisoning of our nation's soil, air, and water, a toxic legacy that will be a burden for generations to come.

In addition to the multitude of legal toxic chemicals that are routinely used on fruits, vegetables, grains, and other foods, illegal chemicals (deemed so presumably because the degree to which they are toxic to humans is beyond the limits of tolerability) have been detected in the American food supply. In a review of 14,000 records of the Food and Drug Administration's pesticide-monitoring program, researchers at the Environmental Working Group identified 356 illegal uses of pesticides.[2] In their review of the data, they found that 24.7 percent of peaches, 15.7 percent of pears, 12.5 percent of apple juice, and 12.4 percent of blackberries contained illegal pesticides, and 11.7 percent of green onions were found to have illegal pesticides used on them. Remember, all conventionally grown produce is subject to the application of legal toxic pesticides.

Pesticide rating compared to stawberries. Source: Environment Working Group and the Nutrition Action Health letter, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Pesticide rating compared to stawberries. Source: Environment Working Group and the
Nutrition Action Health letter, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Pesticide Karma

Some of the more deadly pesticides that have been banned from use within the United States are still manufactured in the U.S. and then exported for use in foreign countries. The bulk of them end up being applied to crops in South and Central America. Between 1992 and 1994, over 45 million pounds of restricted pesticides known to have "very high toxicities and environmental hazards" were exported for use outside the United States.[3] Since 1944, the U.S. has exported nine tons of U.S.-banned pesticides and some 40 million pounds of pesticides that are known hormone disruptors.[4] In addition to the disturbing fact that we are knowingly manufacturing a chemical that poses a severe threat to humans, animals, and the environment, is the imminent return of this toxic cargo on the very fruits and vegetables that we increasingly import to U.S. markets. To allow this is to sanction the slow poisoning of Americans, as long as the poison is being applied outside U.S. borders. As an example, chlordane, a pesticide banned in the U.S. but exported from the U.S. all over the world, has been detected on fish, rice, mushrooms, squash, and beef that is imported into the U.S.[5]

While some supermarket chains have attempted to assure their customers that their produce is free of "detectable residues," random samplings confirm that such promises simply cannot be kept. For example, Richard Wiles of the Washington, D.C. based Environmental Working Group, examined data for a three-year period and found that over 80 percent of peach, apple, and celery samples contained residues of one or more pesticides. As many as eight different pesticides were detected on a single apple.[6] Among the detected residues, 12 known carcinogens, 17 neurotoxins, and 11 pesticides that interfere with the endocrine and reproductive systems were identified. A more recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study found pesticide residues in 48 percent of the random samples of fruits and vegetables.[7]

Moreover, the latest research indicates that a number of the most commonly used pesticides have endocrine-disrupting properties, and among populations where there is the most extreme exposure to such chemicals through groundwater, breast cancer rates are very high.[8]

For example, Vinclozolin, an anti-androgenic pesticide is commonly used on cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, onions, bell peppers, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and Belgian endive.[9] In fact conventionally grown strawberries, according to FDA inspection data, are laced with more endocrine-disrupting pesticides than any other food.[10]

Some pesticides, such as the soil fumigant methyl bromide, threaten human and animal health in a more indirect manner. Some 350 pounds of this poison gas is used per acre to grow strawberries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies methyl bromide as a "Category-1 Acute Toxin" (the highest risk assessment level) because it is known to cause severe poisonings that can result in neurological damage and reproductive harm. The unique hazard of this gas is that it is a powerful destroyer of the protective ozone. So great is methyl bromide's threat to the ozone that 295 atmospheric scientists have concluded that the most significant action that can be taken to protect the ozone is to eliminate all dependence upon this agent.[11] As the ozone is further depleted, rates of ultraviolet-induced skin cancer (now striking 1 in 105 persons) and cataract blindness continue to soar the world over.

Currently the FDA manages to test only a fraction of the foods in the U.S., and its current analytical methods are only sensitive enough to detect one-third of the more than 600 pesticides in use today.[12]

What Are Organic Foods?

Organic foods have been grown without the use of harmful synthetic chemical pesticides, and fertilizers. For a food to be certified organic, it must have been grown on farmland that has been free of such chemicals for a minimum of three years. The mere fact that a particular process hasn't detected a chemical residue is not an indication of the food's having been grown organically. If a food is truly organic and free of harmful chemicals, it must be deemed so by proper posting and certification stickers.

When foods are grown using conventional farming methods, they are subjected to enormous quantities of harmful chemicals, many of which have not been tested for safety and some of which are established human carcinogens. In California alone, 400 million pounds of farming chemicals are used annually. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, chemical pesticides may cause an additional 1.4 million cases of cancer in this generation of Americans.

Not Just Safe – Nutritious

Studies have shown that foods grown organically have a greater nutritional value than conventionally grown foods.[13] At Rutgers University, researchers studied the mineral quality of conventional produce and organic produce and discovered that, on average, the organically grown foods had an 87 percent higher content of magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron, and copper. Organic tomatoes were found to yield 500% more calcium than conventional tomatoes.[14]

How To Know It's Organic

Of the 28 states that have organic farming regulations, only 16 currently require certification. In these states, farmers of organic foods must be certified by either the state or a private certification agency that has been accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Certified organic foods will usually have a sign nearby indicating that they are organic. Some fruits and vegetables bear a small certification sticker as proof. If you are buying from a farmer's market, the definition can sometimes become blurry. In this case, ask the vendors for some official documentation that the foods they are selling are indeed organic.

Some markets may provide food designated as "transitional." This term applies during the period leading up to certification. Although synthetic pesticides are typically not used on such produce, the soil it is grown in has not been pesticide-free for the required three-year period for certification. So while the produce may not yet have the stamp of approval, it should be safer than any conventional produce.

Some foods are more vulnerable to pests than others and, consequently, tend to receive a greater degree of pesticide applications. The graph on (see page 28) depicts the degree to which common foods are treated with pesticides relative to strawberries, which are considered to be the most pesticide-contaminated of fruits and vegetables. In addition to having the greatest numbers of different residues detected (up to 30 different pesticides have been detected on strawberry samples), in a recent survey, strawberries were found to have the greatest residues of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.[14]

In addition to eating more of the healthy foods described in Chapters 20 and 21, making the commitment to purchase organic foods is a crucial component in lessening your risk of breast cancer. And the more consumers join you, the sooner organic foods will become more affordable. Given their anticancer properties, they are already a bargain.


1 Ames Bruce. Ranking possible carcinogenic hazards. Science 236: 272. 1957.
2 Elderkin Susan et al. Forbidden Fruit: Illegal Pesticides in the U.S. Food Supply. Environmental Working Group. Washington, DC. P15. 1995.
3 Smith C and Beckman S. Export of Pesticides from U.S. Ports in 2990: Focus on Restricted Pesticide Exports. A Report to the Committee on Agriculture in Science and Education 20 Sept. 1991.
4 Colborn Theo et al. Our Stolen Future. Dutton. New York. 1996.
5 Hitchcox DC Lee, Long Life Now. Celestial Arts Berkeley. p222. 1997
6 Is Your Food Safe? Transcript, CBS News, 48 Hours, (Burley's Information Services, March 20,1994), p. 18 Environmental Working Group, Washed, Peeled-Contaminated. EWG. Washington, DC. 1994.
7 Mott Abraham M. Your Daily Dose of Pesticides Residues. Pesticide Action Network. San Francisco.
8 Allen Ruth et al. Breast cancer and pesticides in Hawaii: The need for further study. Environmental Health Perspectives. 105 (Sup 3): 679-83. 1997.
9 Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, #547, The Weybridge Report. Environmental Research Foundation. Annapolis, MD. May 22 1997.
10 Center for Science in the Public Interest, Nutrition Action Healthletter 24:7. Jun 1997.
11 Funding a Better Ban: Smart Spending on Methyl Bromide Alternatives in Developing Countries. Pesticide Action Network. 1997.
12 As per note 3.
13 Kaiser, John D., Immune Power. St Martin's Press. New York. p.27. 1993.
14 Journal of Applied Nutrition. 45. 1993.

Extracted with permission from The Truth about Breast Cancer by Joseph Keon Ph.D., published by Parissound Publishing, 16 Miller Avenue, Suite 203, Mill Valley, CA 94941. Tel: (US)415 383 2884, Fax: (US)415 381 5374, Email:

Organic Certification: Professional Standards

Organic farming is a carefully devised system of food production defined by EU law and is based on the following principles:

    Building soil fertility;
   Minimal use of non-renewable resources (no chemicals);
   Minimise pollution and damage to the environment;
   Working with, not against, natural systems;
   Respect for animal welfare;
   Minimal processing or additives.

Organic farming is governed by EEC Regulation No. 2092/91, which defines the basic standards of production and processing and the requirements for control and policing. This Regulation is implemented in Britain by the UK Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS). The statutory requirements are:

    Two-year conversion period prior to full organic status is achieved;
    Adequate physical and financial separation of organic and non-organic units under     the same management;
    Application to, inspection by, and certification with, an approved inspection body,     such as Soil Association Certification Ltd;
    Maintenance of adequate records to demonstrate compliance with the standards;
    Annual monitoring and inspection by the approved certification body;
    Strict requirements for labelling and for the use of additives and processing aids.

Source: The Soil Association


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