Can Eating Organic Lower Your Exposure to Pesticides?February 12, 2019
For consumers uncertain about the value of organic food, a new study adds evidence to a larger body of research showing that eating organic very well may reduce pesticides in the human body. The study, which was just published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research, finds that families eating a 100 percent organic diet rapidly and dramatically reduced their exposure to four classes of pesticides—by an average of 60 percent—over six days.
Conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health and funded in part by the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth, the study builds on prior studies—including one conducted on adults in Australia, and two on children in Seattle and California—which all similarly found that switching to organic food quickly and substantially reduced pesticide exposures.
The researchers studied 16 people in four demographically and geographically diverse families, hailing from Oakland, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Atlanta. Researchers tested participants for a select group of pesticides and their breakdown products in urine; working with independent laboratories to analyze urine samples, they found 14 different compounds that represented up to 40 different pesticides. After six days on the organic diet, overall pesticide levels dropped 60.5 percent in both the adults and children.
“It’s striking that the levels dropped so dramatically after only six days,” said Kendra Klein, senior scientist at Friends of the Earth and one of the report’s authors. “That’s the good news,” she said. “We’re seeing that something you ingest can clear from your body in a few days. The problem is that we’re eating that food so continuously that we’re getting a daily exposure despite the excretion.”
The study provides important information to consumers who seek to limit their exposure to the hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides and herbicides used in the U.S. today, say researchers.
“Families need this type of information,” says Bruce Lanphear, professor, Faculty of Health Science at Simon Fraser University, who was not involved with the study. “In the absence of a robust regulatory system that protects consumers, these types of studies are critical for consumers or families to make these choices.”
While the study reaffirms previous research, it also breaks new ground by testing for newer classes of pesticides that are now the most widely used in the U.S. today to kill insects, namely neonicotinoids and pyrethroids. Previous organic diet studies focused primarily on organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos, an older class of pesticides with enough well-documented human toxicity results that some scientists recently called for a ban on all of them.
“To date, we just don’t have enough information about these pesticides that are being used now, such as pyrethroids and neonicotinoids,” says lead author Carly Hyland, a doctoral…