Any time you buy an organic apple for, say, 25 percent more than you'd pay for a conventional apple, you're putting your trust in some entity. Maybe it's USDA-certified organic and you're trusting that the U.S. government has rightly approved its organic nature. Maybe it's certified under a state program, or maybe you know the actual farmer who grew the apple under organic conditions.
Regardless, it's a leap of faith, and that's the first problem facing organics: "Organic" is a human designation, and humans aren't always right, or honest, or fully in the know. It's possible the government certifier didn't look closely enough, or the farmer cut corners and planted before the full three years of synthetic-pesticide-free conditions were complete.
That brings us to another issue with organics and pesticides: Sometimes, organic produce is contaminated [source: Groth]. It's seldom the result of dishonesty. It's just the chaos of nature. If an organic farm is situated near a conventional farm, it's possible the wind or rain run-off could carry some of the conventional pesticides into the organic field.
Nonetheless, a consumer can be pretty sure that, at the very least, an organic apple contains less synthetic-pesticide residue than a conventional apple does. And that's worth the extra 50 cents, right?
It all depends on how you look at it. In reality, there are no conclusive studies showing that the amount of pesticide residue humans ingest through produce (or meat raised on that produce) causes bodily harm. At the same time, there's no absolute assurance that just because a crop treatment is natural it's perfectly safe for human consumption.
In the end, the best approach is simply to be smart: Wash all of your produce before you eat it, scrub the stuff that can stand up to it, and trim the fat from meat (that's where pesticides would collect). If you'll be consuming the peel, consider going organic, because the peel is the part that would hold trace pesticides. This is especially true with peaches, apples and peppers [source: DG]. If you won't be eating the skin or outer covering, as with pineapple, mango and sweet corn, it's probably safe to save some cash and go conventional.
For more information on organics, pesticides and related topics, look over the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Are organic foods pesticide-free? International Food Safety Network.http://foodsafety.k-state.edu/en/faq-details.php?a=3&fc=10&id=7718
- The Clean 15: Foods You Don't Have to Buy Organic. The Daily Green.http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/Save-on-Sustainable-Gallery-44032808
- The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Eat Organic. The Daily Green.http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/Dirty-Dozen-Foods
- Groth, Edward. "What's the difference between 'organic' and 'pesticide-free' food?" BabyCenter.http://www.babycenter.com/404_whats-the-difference-between-organic-and-pesticide-free-food_11803.bc
- Pesticides and Food: What "Organically Grown" Means. EPA.http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/food/organics.htm
- Pesticides on Fruits and Vegetables. Consumer Health.http://www.consumerhealth.org/articles/display.cfm?ID=19990809222752
- Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S. data sets. Consumers Union. May 2002.http://www.consumersunion.org/food/organicsumm.htm
- Pesticide Safety. NDSU.http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/plantsci/hortcrop/ncr590w.htm
- Schneider, Andrew. "Harmful pesticides found in everyday food products." Seattle PI. Jan. 30, 2008.