Are Organic Foods Safer ??
by Stephen B.Lovejoy
Prof. Agric. & Envir. Policy, Purdue University
Reprinted from TBGS newsletter issued September 1994.
The word, pesticide, is derived from the Latin "pestis" that
means plague, and "cide," that means destroyer or killer.
Together, pesticide is "the destroyer of plagues." Prof. Lovejoy
brings another element into the picture, one not normally given
even slight regard when a dispute, organic versus pesticide,
occurs. So, we prevailed upon him to remind us all how Mother
Nature takes her own defensive measures, and just what that
Are there risks from the pesticide residues remaining from U.S.
production practices? Studies by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration find that over 60% of foods have no detectable
pesticide residues, and that less than 1% have residues exceeding
health tolerance levels.
A 1987 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that the
average American consumes 45 micrograms of potentially
carcinogenic pesticide residues per day in their food. This
certainly suggests that there is some risk of cancer from
pesticide residue in the foods we buy and consume.
However, is the risk from organic foods zero? No, unfortunately;
there are other kinds of potential carcinogens in our food
supply. Most foods have natural pesticides that assist them in
defending themselves from pests. One type of natural pesticide
are the mycotoxins (e.g.aflatoxin) which are also
potential carcinogens. These mycotoxins are present in many of
the foods that we eat. For instance, a slice of bread has 185
micrograms of natural carcinogens, and a cup of coffee has 500
Are the risks from natural and artificial pesticides independent,
cumulative, or interdependent?
Let us look at one study that took a single product and directly
compared organic and conventional. One of the mycotoxins is a
chemical named patulin, which occurs in apples;this
mycotoxin is always present in apple products but at varying
levels of concentrations. The study purchased samples of
conventionally produced apple juice and organic apple juice, and
then analyzed the samples to determine the concentrations of
The conventional apple juice had patulin ranging from 244
micrograms per liter up to 3993 micrograms per liter. On the
other hand, the organic apple juice had patulin at rates up to
45,000 micrograms per liter. This study suggests that the use of
artificial pesticides and concentration of patulin are inversely
Readers should not take this as an indictment of organic food but
rather an attempt to force them into looking at these issues from
a comparative risk perspective. There is no absolutely safe food
supply. Risks are everywhere. Our job as intelligent consumers is
to minimize those risks, and that will only happen with greater
information about the risks in conventional and organic
In answer to the question, "Is organic food safer?," the
readers must answer for themselves.
by Prof. Stephen B. Lovejoy
A Brief Editorial Comment On Prof. Lovejoy's Report
The juice derived from apples naturally grown was found to
contain much more than ten times the concentration of patulin
found in juice from apples commercially grown, sprayed, etc. To
us, as to many others, no doubt, this would come as a "shocker."
Which would you buy ?
What Are Mycotoxins
This time it's Greek that provides the combining form,
myco, and it means fungus. So, fungi are the sources of
the toxins patulin and aflatoxin, referred to by
Prof. Lovejoy. Last month, we wrote about toxic algae that do not
harm certain shellfish, but when eaten by other fish, or by man,
they are poisoned from the pass-along. Aflatoxin is a toxic
fungus that can be passed along to man from the animals that
ingest it when they eat "moldy" corn. Several years ago, a
serious condition arose that led to the dumping of huge
quantities of affected milk and meats. It, too, is a carcinogen.
Ergot is produced by another fungus, and when ingested,
can lead to hallucinations --- and death. Add to them the tribe
of so many poisonous mushrooms...Sol Steinberg, Ed.
To contact Prof. Lovejoy, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact Sol Steinberg. e-mail to email@example.com