Most organic shoppers choose the produce aisle first when it comes to organic food. It's much more tangible to smell a luscious organic strawberry and know it's not listed on the Environmental Working Group's dirty dozen list. We all have to start somewhere, and the visual appeal, along with incredible taste of organic produce is a good place to commence when buying healthy food for children. Organic food offers earthly delights as well as principles, practices and government-backed rules that produce cleaner and healthier food.
Yet some folks think otherwise.
An article in Slate titled, "Organic Shmorganic," does its best to question many assumptions about the benefits of organic food. The author of the Slate piece notes "... there is little evidence that the differences [between organic and conventional] translate into actual health benefits." Those of us who have been enjoying organic food for years know the benefits, but for many consumers, stories like the one in Slate sow confusion and raise unnecessary barriers to exploring the organic produce aisle.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) posted a blog by Alex Formuzis, "The Case for Organic Fruits and Veggies," which offers a broad view on the issue. Chemical agriculture has enormous effects on other vital resources that every American relies on, such as drinking water, air and soil, and well-documented harm that pesticide exposure does to farm workers and their families. Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health and Director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, is quoted as saying, "Strong and well-conducted studies published in leading peer-reviewed journals have shown that families who consume an organic diet have 90 percent lower levels of pesticides in their bodies than families who consistently consume 'conventional' pesticide-treated foods."
Back in 1993, The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report on the effect of pesticides in the diets of infants and children. This historic report concluded that many of "the pesticides applied to food crops in this country are present in foods and may pose risks to human health." The report demonstrated that infants and children have special sensitivities to these toxic inputs. Children consume notably more of certain foods relative to their body weight than do adults. Thus, their ingestion of pesticide residues on these foods may be proportionately higher than that of adults. Certain chronic toxic effects such as cancer, exposures occurring early in life may pose greater risks than those occurring later in life. For these reasons, risk assessment methods that have traditionally been used for adults may require modification when applied to infants and children.
In short, the NAS committee stated bluntly that EPA-set pesticide tolerances governing allowable levels in food were set to protect adults, based on laboratory data collected from experiments with healthy, adult mice and rats, and that infants are not just "little adults." The Committee emphasized that pregnant women and unborn children, as well as infants and children, are much more vulnerable to possibly life-long adverse impacts from even very low pesticide exposures. This is true for several reasons, including:
- Infants and children eat far more food per pound of bodyweight, because they are growing so fast
- The blood-brain barrier remains partially permeable during fetal development and the first year of life, increasing the odds that developmental neurotoxins, like organophosphate insecticides, might do serious damage to the brain's architecture or wiring
- An infant's liver and kidneys are not fully developed, and hence are less efficient at filtering out and/or detoxifying potentially hazardous chemicals
- Endocrine disrupting pesticides can block or otherwise disrupt the normal development of complex organ systems, impacting in particular life-long immune response and sexual development and reproductive health
- · Infants and young children eat a much less diverse diet, and so when one food in a child's diet has residues in or on it, the child's exposure tends to be higher
This was groundbreaking work and established a new consensus among scientists that pesticide regulatory policy and risk assessment science had to be fundamentally re-tooled to specifically take into account -- and prevent -- pesticides risks during pregnancy and childhood. Since the report's release in 1993, new science has strengthened the consensus and added a sense of urgency to efforts to eliminate dietary exposures to high-risk pesticides. While progress has been made, half-measures are not good enough when the health of the next generation is on the line.
In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement on pesticide exposure in children, stating, "Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. New understanding of chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging. Recognizing and reducing problematic exposures will require attention to current inadequacies in regulatory action on pesticides." As Pesticide Action Network (PAN) paraphrased, "when it comes to children and pesticides, it's time our policies caught up with the science." You can read PAN's take on the Slate article for more insights.
I agree with the Slate article that we should be eating and feeding our children more fresh fruits and vegetables. I believe, as do many scientists, that organic should be the first choice when it comes to fresh produce and fruit juices, especially for pregnant women, infants and children.
Organic is the food system with the most transparency and strictest compliance programs in the U.S. Organic is the gold standard when it comes to reducing your exposure to chemical residues and genetically modified organisms.
Humans have been practicing organic agriculture for over 10,000 years. Less than 70 years ago, cunning chemists reformulated war time chemicals that could be repurposed and sprayed on our food. Who really knows the health ramifications in such a short blip on our evolutionary radar? Organic is the best food choice based on the lessons of history and cutting-edge, 21st Century science.