Health Benefits of Organic Farming — Beyond Pesticides

The whole picture

Organic food contributes to better health through reduced exposure to pesticides for all and better nutritional quality. In order to understand the importance of eating organic food from the perspective of toxic pesticide contamination, we need to look at the bigger picture – from the farm workers who do the valuable work of growing food, to the from the water we drink, to the air we breathe and the food we eat. Organic food can nourish us and keep us healthy without producing the toxic effects of chemical farming.

Who benefits?

Farm workers – reducing exposure to pesticides in organic farming
Consumers – better nutrition and reduced pesticide contamination in organic farming
Children – why organic food is important for all children

Farmer health

The population groups most affected by the use of pesticides are agricultural workers and their families. These people live in communities close to the application of toxic pesticides, where pesticide drift and water contamination are common. Agricultural workers, both pesticide applicators and field workers tending and harvesting crops, frequently come into contact with pesticides. Their families and children are then exposed to these pesticides through contact with them and their clothes. Pregnant women working in the fields unwittingly expose their unborn babies to toxic pesticides. Organic farming does not use these toxic chemicals and thus eliminates this huge health hazard to workers, their families and communities.

There is no national system for reporting pesticide poisonings among agricultural workers. In California, one of the few states to require reporting of pesticide poisonings, there was an annual average of 475 reported poisonings of farmworkers by pesticides in the years 1997-2000 according to the Fields of Poison 2002 report: California Farmworkers and Pesticides. As noted in the article, this likely significantly underestimates the true number of poisonings, as many cases are never reported for a myriad of reasons, including rising health care costs which have increased reluctance to consulting a doctor, the misdiagnoses of medical professionals and the failure of insurance companies. transmit the reports to the competent authorities.

Acute pesticide poisonings among agricultural workers are only one aspect of the health consequences of pesticide exposure. Many agricultural workers spend years in the field exposed to toxic chemicals, and some studies have reported increased risks of certain types of cancers among agricultural workers. Emerging science on endocrine-disrupting pesticides reveals another chronic health effect of pesticide exposure (for more on endocrine-disrupting pesticides, read the Spring 2008 article in Pesticides and you).

Children living in areas with high pesticide use are at great risk of health effects due to their high sensitivity to pesticides. In 1998, a groundbreaking study by Elizabeth Guillette published in Environmental Health Perspectives showed the severe effects of pesticides on child development in an agricultural area of ​​Mexico. The full text of this study, including the innovative methodology used, is available here.

Pesticide exposure of pregnant women working in the fields can have devastating effects on their babies. A study compares three case studies of birth defects caused by probable pesticide poisoning. In a case brought to court and decided in favor of the plaintiffs, a mother illegally exposed to pesticides gave birth to a child without arms or legs. For the full story in the Beyond Pesticides daily news blog, read here.

Considering only pesticide residues in food as a measure of pesticide exposure ignores the fact that many foods that do not end up with high pesticide residues nevertheless involve toxic chemicals in production that put workers’ health at risk. in danger. The use of pesticides in production and the exposure of agricultural workers are necessary considerations in considering the overall problem of pesticides. Switching to organic farming is the only way to eliminate exposure to toxic pesticides for everyone.

To learn more about the health risks farmers face, read Baldemar Velasquez’s article in Pesticides and you title
The Oppression and Health of Farmworkers in a Global Economy as well as our page on Buying Organics and Labor Considerations.

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Consumer health


Not only is organic food production better for human health and the environment than conventional production, but emerging science is revealing what organic advocates have long been saying: in addition to not containing the toxic residues of conventional foods , organic foods are more nutritious.

A study published by The Organic Center reveals that organic foods are higher in some key areas such as total antioxidant capacity, total polyphenols and two key flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, all of which are nutritionally important (read a summary in the Beyond Pesticides Daily News Blog). Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry looked specifically at the total phenolic content of puppets, strawberries, and corn, and found that organically grown produce contained higher total phenolics. Phenolic compounds are important to plant health (defense against insects and disease) and human health for their “potent antioxidant activity and wide range of pharmacological properties, including anti-cancer, antioxidant and inhibition activity. platelet aggregation”.

Studies have also shown that dairy products from organically raised animals are healthier than conventionally produced dairy products. In one study, the content of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants was significantly higher in organically produced milk (see Beyond Pesticides Daily News blog post for study summary and quote). Animals raised organically do not receive antibiotics and must graze on organically managed pasture or be fed organically grown feed. Some organic milk producers have been cited for violating the organic standard, making it all the more important to choose a local organic dairy farm where operations are transparent. To learn more about maintaining the integrity of organic dairy products, visit the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Milk page.

Pesticide contamination

Pesticide residues in food are regulated by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), but the tolerance levels assigned to some pesticides, although determined to be “allowable”, still pose potential health risks. . The only way to avoid pesticide residue is to switch to organic food. Some foods tend to contain less pesticide residue, either because fewer pesticides are used in their production, or because they have thicker skins and, when peeled, contain smaller amounts of pesticides than thinner skinned products.

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Children and pesticides

Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticide exposure because they have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Beyond Pesticides has produced a fact sheet called Children and Lawn Chemicals Don’t Mix, which highlights the need to eliminate children’s exposure to toxic lawn chemicals. Pesticide exposure also occurs through food, and switching to organic food is an important step in reducing this exposure.

Research has shown that switching children to an organic diet significantly reduces their exposure to organophosphates, a class of pesticides that includes the common and toxic malathion and chlorpyrifos. A study published in 2015 compared the urinary concentrations of organophosphate pesticides and their metabolites in children following a conventional or organic diet. The results indicate that for some types of pesticides, such as organophosphates, diet is the main route of exposure and switching to an organic diet significantly decreases exposure. The most important organic food products for children to buy are not only those that contain high residues in conventional form, but those that they consume in large quantities. For example, if children drink a lot of juice, buying organic juice is especially important to reduce their exposure to pesticides.

While food contamination is a source of pesticide exposure and organic farming is key to reducing this, it is vital that we also consider all sources of pesticide exposure for children. We must also advocate for pesticide-free schools, parks, buildings and private lawns. For more information on these issues, please see the Beyond Pesticides for Schools, Lawns and Lawn Care program pages, and the alternatives fact sheets.

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