Why Do We Need Pesticides?
Are you concerned by the toxicity of pesticides used in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables? We did some research and found that the trace levels of pesticide residue that accumulates on fruits and vegetables are significantly below tolerance levels, and are not dangerous to human health. But you may still be asking yourself— why do we even need pesticides? Have you ever wondered how many fruits and vegetables (containing pesticide residue) you could eat before it starts to negatively affect your health? The answer might surprise you…
Dr. Robert Krieger, the Director of the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside, was curious about how pesticide residue affects our health as well. He decided to answer a question similar to this in his paper, Perspective on Pesticide Residues in Fruits and Vegetables. Using the data from the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) from 2000-2008, Dr. Krieger analyzed how much pesticide residue a man, woman, or child could consume safely. For purposes of creating a “worst case scenario”, Dr. Krieger calculated the numbers using the highest pesticide residue found on 14 popular produce items during the 2000-2008 time period.
This produce list included apples, blueberries, carrots, celery, cherries, kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and red bell peppers. The methodology for the PDP analysis included a normal rinse under running water of the produce before testing (typical of consumer habits). Dr. Krieger’s analysis showed that, through a healthy (and even slightly excessive diet) no man, woman, or child could consume enough pesticide residues to reach a level where it negatively affected their health.
Using strawberries as an example, the Pesticide Residue Calculator from SafeFruitsandVeggies.com illustrates that a woman could consume 2,042 servings of strawberries in one day without any negative effect from pesticides! This result holds true even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by the USDA.
So why do farmers use pesticides?
Detected residues on fruits and vegetables are less toxic than the caffeine that is in your coffee each morning!
Regardless of whether you shop organic or conventional, it is important to understand how important conventional farming is to our nation’s food supply. Organics will never be able to feed the world. The cost of production is too high to make it the primary growing option for farmers. Conventional farming is more cost effective and the safety levels of pesticides are constantly regulated and ensured.
To better understand how farmers work to provide healthy, viable crops, we spoke to a third generation strawberry farmer in California who manages roughly 40 acres of land, with an approximate 50/50 split between organically and conventionally grown strawberries. (You also might be interested to know he buys conventional!)
Farmers are really good stewards of the land. We take care of our land because that is what we live by. We abide by laws and regulations and provide a product that is safe for the consumer. We would love for people to understand that the food that comes out of the United States is the safest food around.
Meet a strawberry grower
The Bottom Line:
If you are buying conventional you don’t have to fear the use of pesticides. U.S. agricultural scientists, researchers, and farmers continually work to create, manage, and produce the safest food supply in the world. Pesticides help farmers make the most of their land. To ensure food safety in your kitchen, be sure to wash your fruits and vegetables before eating. Any trace pesticide residues that remain will not negatively affect your health.
“Pesticide Data Program.” Agricultural Marketing Service. Web. May 2016. <https://www.ams.usda.gov/datasets/pdp>.
“Agricultural Marketing Service.” Agricultural Marketing Service. Web. Apr. 2016. <https://www.ams.usda.gov/>.
Klonsky, Karen. Comparison of Production Costs and Resource Use for Organic and Conventional Production Systems. Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California. PDF. http://aic.ucdavis.edu/publications/NRCSKlonskypaper.pdf
“Applied Mythology.” : Do You Really Need to Buy Organic Foods To Avoid Pesticide Residues? Web. May 2016. <http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2012/09/to-you-really-need-to-buy-organic-foods.html>.
“Agricultural IPM.” Agricultural IPM. Web. May 2016. <http://npic.orst.edu/pest/agipm.html>.
“CAES: Fact Sheets.” CAES: Fact Sheets. The CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Web. May 2016. <http://www.ct.gov/caes/cwp/view.asp?a=2815>. Removal of Trace Pesticide Residues from Produce
“Food and Pesticides.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. May 2016. <https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides>.
“Farmers Fighting Pest Pressures in Crops.” Extension Daily. 2015. Web. May 2016.
“Cornell University.” IPM on Farms. Web. May 2016. <http://nysipm.cornell.edu/about/defining-ipm/ipm-farms>.
“Insect Pests of Vegetables.” Insect Pests of Vegetables. Web. May 2016. <http://ipm.ncsu.edu/vegetables/pests_vegetables.html>.
“Minimizing Pesticide Residues in Food.” Minimizing Pesticide Residues in Food. Web. May 2016. <http://npic.orst.edu/health/foodprac.html>.
“United States Department of Agriculture.” NASS. Web. May 2016. <https://www.nass.usda.gov/Surveys/Guide_to_NASS_Surveys/Chemical_Use/#description>.
Pest Management Practices. ERS-USDA. PDF. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/873656/pestmgt.pdf
Pesticides and Food: How We Test for Safety. CA Dept. of Pesticide Regulation. PDF. http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/dept/factshts/residu2.pdf
“Reducing Pest Pressure.” Reducing Pest Pressure. Web. May 2016. <http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Bulletins/A-Whole-Farm-Approach-to-Managing-Pests/Text-Version/Reducing-Pest-Pressure>.
“Six Reasons Organic Is NOT The Most Environmentally Friendly Way To Farm.” Science 2.0. Web. May 2016. <http://www.science20.com/agricultural_realism/six_reasons_organic_not_most_environmentally_friendly_way_farm-110209>.
“Summary of Pesticide Use Report Data – 2014.” Summary of Pesticide Use Report Data 2014. Web. May 2016. <http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pur/pur14rep/14sum.htm#trends>.