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Are lower pesticide residues a good reason to buy organic? Probably not.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A lot of organic supporters are up in arms about the recent Stanford study that found no nutritional benefit to organic foods. Stanford missed the point, they say—it’s not about what organic foods have in them, it’s what they don’t. After all, avoidance of pesticide residues is the #1 reason why people buy organic foods.

Yes, conventional foods have more synthetic pesticide residues than organic ones, on average. And yes, pesticides are dangerous chemicals. But does the science support paying significantly more for organic foods just to avoid synthetic pesticides? No.

A Pesticide Is A Pesticide

I’m not saying that pesticides, herbicides, and insect repellants aren’t toxic. I certainly wouldn’t recommend drinking cocktails laced with insect-repelling chemicals, for without a doubt, they can be bad for you. Pesticide exposure has been linked to all kinds of diseases and conditions, from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s to cancer. What we do know, though, is that natural isn’t synonymous with harmless. As a 2003 review of food safety concluded, “what should be made clear to consumers is that ‘organic’ does not equal ‘safe’.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is nothing safe about the chemicals used in organic agriculture. Period. This shouldn’t be that shocking – after all, a pesticide is a pesticide. “Virtually all chemicals can be shown to be dangerous at high doses,” explain scientists, “and this includes the thousands of natural chemicals that are consumed every day in food but most particularly in fruit and vegetables.”

There’s a reason we have an abundance of natural pesticides: plants and animals produce tens of thousands of chemicals to try and deter insects and herbivores from eating them. Most of these haven’t been tested for their toxic potential, as the Reduced Risk Program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) applies to synthetic pesticides only. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, we find they are just as bad as synthetic pesticides, sometimes worse. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks, including those used commonly in organic farming.

In head-to-head comparisons, natural pesticides don’t fare any better than synthetic ones. When I compared the organic chemicals copper sulfate and pyrethrum to the top synthetics, chlorpyrifos and chlorothalonil, I found that not only were the organic ones more acutely toxic, studies have found that they are more chronically toxic as well, and have higher negative impacts on non-target species. My results match with other scientific comparisons. In their recommendations to Parliament in 1999, the Committee on European Communities noted that copper sulfate, in particular, was far more dangerous than the synthetic alternative. A review of their findings can be seen in the table on the right (from a recent review paper). Similarly, head to head comparisons have found that organic pesticides aren’t better for the environment, either.

Organic pesticides pose the same health risks as non-organic ones. No matter what anyone tells you, organic pesticides don’t just disappear. Rotenone is notorious for its lack of degradation, and copper sticks around for a long, long time. Studies have shown that copper sulfate, pyrethrins, and rotenone all can be detected on plants after harvest—for copper sulfate and rotenone, those levels exceeded safe limits. One study found such significant rotenone residues in olives and olive oil to warrant “serious doubts…about the safety and healthiness of oils extracted from drupes treated with rotenone.” Just like with certain synthetic pesticides, organic pesticide exposure has health implications—a study in Texas found that rotenone exposure correlated to a significantly higher risk of Parkinson’s disease. The increased risk due to Rotenone was five times higher than the risk posed by the synthetic alternative, chlorpyrifos. Similarly, the FDA has known for a while that chronic exposure to copper sulfate can lead to anemia and liver disease.

So why do we keep hearing that organic foods have fewer pesticide residues? Well, because they have lower levels of synthetic pesticide residues. Most of our data on pesticide residues in food comes from surveys like the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP). But the while the PDP has been looking at the residues of over 300 pesticides in foods for decades, rotenone and copper sulfate aren’t among the usual pesticides tested for—maybe, because for several organic pesticides, fast, reliable methods for detecting them were only developed recently. And, since there isn’t any public data on the use of organic pesticides in organic farming (like there is for conventional farms), we’re left guessing what levels of organic pesticides are on and in organic foods.

So, if you’re going to worry about pesticides, worry about all of them, organic and synthetic. But, really, should you worry at all?

You Are What You Eat? Maybe Not.

We know, quite assuredly, that conventionally produced foods do contain higher levels of synthetic chemicals. But do these residues matter?

While study after study can find pesticide residues on foods, they are almost always well below safety standards. Almost all pesticides detected on foods by the USDA and independent scientific studies are at levels below 1% of the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) set by government regulators. This level isn’t random – the ADI is based on animal exposure studies in a wide variety of species. First, scientists give animals different amounts of pesticides on a daily basis throughout their lifetimes and monitor those animals for toxic effects. Through this, they determine the highest dose at which no effects can be found. The ADI is then typically set 100 times lower than that level. So a typical human exposure that is 1% of the ADI is equivalent to an exposure 10,000 times lower than levels that are safe in animal models.

Systematic reviews of dietary pesticide exposure all come to the same conclusion: that typical dietary exposure to pesticide residues in foods poses minimal risks to humans. As the book Health Benefits of Organic Food explains, “while there is some evidence that consuming organic produce will lead to lower exposure of pesticides compared to the consumption of conventional produce, there is no evidence of effect at contemporary concentrations.” Or, as a recent review states, “from a practical standpoint, the marginal benefits of reducing human exposure to pesticides in the diet through increased consumption of organic produce appear to be insignificant.”

Reviews of the negative health effects of pesticides find that dangerous exposure levels don’t come from food. Instead, non-dietary routes make for the vast majority of toxin exposures, in particular the use of pesticides around the home and workplace. A review of the worldwide disease burden caused by chemicals found that 70% can be attributed to air pollution, with acute poisonings and occupational exposures coming in second and third. Similarly, studies have found that indoor air concentrations of pesticides, not the amount on foodstuffs, correlate strongly to the amount of residues found in pregnant women (and even still, there was no strong correlation between exposure and health effects). Similarly, other studies have found that exposures to toxic pyrethroids come primarily from the environment. Children on organic diets routeinely had pyrethroids in their systems, and the organic group actually had higher levels of several pyrethroid metabolites than the conventional one. In other words, you have more to fear from your home than from your food.

Your home probably contains more pesticides than you ever imagined. Plastics and paints often contain fungicides to prevent mold—fungi that, by the way, can kill you. Your walls, carpets and floors also contain pesticides. Cleaning products and disenfectants contains pesticides and fungicides so they can do their job. Ever used an exterminator to get rid of mice, termites, fleas or cockroaches? That stuff can linger for months. Step outside your house, and just about everything you touch has come in contact with a pesticide. Insecticides are used in processing, manufacturing, and packaging, not to mention that even grocery stores use pesticides to keep insects and rodents at bay. These chemicals are all around you, every day, fighting off the pests that destroy our buildings and our food. It’s not surprising that most pesticide exposures doesn’t come from your food.

That said, there are some studies that have found a link between diet and exposure to specific pesticides, particularly synthetic organophosphorus pesticides. Lu et al. found that switching children from a conventional food diet to an entirely organic one dropped the urinary levels of specific metabolites for malathion and chlorpyrifos to nondetectable levels in a matter of days. But, it’s important to note that even the levels they detected during the conventional diet are three orders of magnitude lower than the levels needed in animal experiments to cause neurodevelopmental or other adverse health effects.

While it might seem that decreasing exposure to pesticides in any way could only be good for you, toxicologists would differ. Contrary to what you might think, lower exposure isn’t necessarily better. It’s what’s known as hormesis, or a hormetic dose response curve. There is evidence that exposure to most chemicals at doses significantly below danger thresholds, even pesticides, is beneficial when compared to no exposure at all. Why? Perhaps because it kick starts our immune system. Or, perhaps, because pesticides activate beneficial biological pathways. For most chemicals, we simply don’t know. What we do know is that data collected from 5000 dose response measurements (abstracted from over 20,000 studies) found that low doses of many supposedly toxic chemicals, metals, pesticides and fungicides either reduced cancer rates below controls or increased longevity or growth in a variety of animals. So while high acute and chronic exposures are bad, the levels we see in food that are well below danger thresholds may even be good for us. This isn’t as surprising as you might think—just look at most pharmaceuticals. People take low doses of aspirin daily to improve their heart health, but at high chronic doses, it can cause anything from vomiting to seizures and even death. Similarly, a glass of red wine every day might be good for you. But ten glasses a day? Definitely not.

No Need To Fear

To date, there is no scientific evidence that eating an organic diet leads to better health.

What of all those studies I just mentioned linking pesticides to disorders? Well, exactly none of them looked at pesticides from dietary intake and health in people. Instead, they involve people with high occupational exposure (like farmers who spray pesticides) or household exposure (from gardening, etc). Judging the safety of dietary pesticide intake by high exposures is like judging the health impacts of red wine based on alcoholics. A systematic review of the literature found only three studies to date have looked at clinical outcomes of eating organic – and none found any difference between an organic and conventional diet. My question is: if organic foods are so much healthier, why aren’t there any studies that show people on an organic diet are healthier than people eating conventionally grown produce instead?

More to the point, if conventional pesticide residues on food (and not other, high exposure routes) are leading to rampant disease, we should be able to find evidence of the connection in longitudinal epidemiological studies—but we don’t. The epidemiological evidence for the danger of pesticide residues simply isn’t there.

If dietary exposure to pesticides was a significant factor in cancer rates, we would expect to see that people who eat more conventionally grown fruits and vegetable have higher rates of cancer. But instead, we see the opposite. People who eat more fruits and vegetables have significantly lower incidences of cancers, and those who eat the most are two times less likely to develop cancer than those who eat the least. While high doses of pesticides over time have been linked to cancer in lab animals and in vitro studies, “epidemiological studies do not support the idea that synthetic pesticide residues are important for human cancer.” Even the exposure to the persistent and villainized pesticide DDT has not been consistently linked to cancer. As a recent review of the literature summarized, “no hard evidence currently exists that toxic hazards such as pesticides have had a major impact on total cancer incidence and mortality, and this is especially true for diet-related exposures.”

The closest we have to studying the effects of diet on health are studies looking at farmers. However, farmers in general have high occupational pesticide exposures, and thus it’s impossible to tease out occupational versus dietary exposure. Even still, in this high-risk group, studies simply don’t find health differences between organic and conventional farmers. A UK study found that conventional farmers were just as healthy as organic ones, though the organic ones were happier. Similarly, while test-tube studies of high levels of pesticides are known to cause reproductive disorders, a comparison of sperm quality from organic and conventional farmers was unable to connect dietary intake of over 40 different pesticides to any kind of reproductive impairment. Instead, the two groups showed no statistical difference in their sperm quality.

In a review of the evidence for choosing organic food, Christine Williams said it simply: “There are virtually no studies of any size that have evaluated the effects of organic v. conventionally-grown foods.” Thus, she explains, “conclusions cannot be drawn regarding potentially beneficial or adverse nutritional consequences, to the consumer, of increased consumption of organic food.”

“There is currently no evidence to support or refute claims that organic food is safer and thus, healthier, than conventional food, or vice versa. Assertions of such kind are inappropriate and not justified,” explain scientists. Neither organic nor conventional food is dangerous to eat, they say, and the constant attention to safety is unwarranted. Worse, it does more harm than good. The scientists chastise the media and industry alike for scaremongering tactics, saying that “the selective and partial presentation of evidence serves no useful purpose and does not promote public health. Rather, it raises fears about unsafe food.”

Furthermore, the focus on pesticides is misleading, as pesticide residues are the lowest food hazard when it comes to human health (as the figure from the paper on the right shows). They conclude that as far as the scientific evidence is concerned, “it seems that other factors, if any, rather than safety aspects speak in favor of organic food.”

If you don’t want to listen to those people or me, listen to the toxicologists, who study this stuff for a living. When probed about the risk that different toxins pose, over 85% rejected the notion that organic or “natural” products are safer than others. They felt that smoking, sun exposure and mercury were of much higher concern than pesticides. Over 90% agreed that the media does a terrible job of reporting the about toxic substances, mostly by overstating the risks. They slammed down hard on non-governmental organizations, too, for overstating risk.

What’s in a Name?

There’s good reason we can’t detect differences between organic and conventional diets: the labels don’t mean that much. Sure, organic farms have to follow a certain set of USDA guidelines, but farm to farm variability is huge for both conventional and organic practices. As a review of organic practices concluded: “variation within organic and conventional farming systems is likely as large as differences between the two systems.”

The false dichotomy between conventional and organic isn’t just misleading, it’s dangerous. Our constant attention to natural versus synthetic only causes fear and distrust, when in actuality, our food has never been safer. Eating less fruits and vegetables due to fear of pesticides or the high price of organics does far more harm to our health than any of the pesticide residues on our food.

Let me be clear about one thing: I’m all for reducing pesticide use. But we can’t forget that pesticides are used for a reason, too. We have been reaping the rewards of pesticide use for decades. Higher yields due to less crop destruction. Safer food because of reduced fungal and bacterial contamination. Lower prices as a result of increased supply and longer shelf life. Protection from pests that carry deadly diseases. Invasive species control, saving billions of dollars in damages—and the list goes on. Yes, we need to manage the way we use pesticides, scrutinize the chemicals involved and monitor their effects to ensure safety, and Big Ag (conventional and organic) needs to be kept in check. But without a doubt, our lives have been vastly improved by the chemicals we so quickly villainize.

If we want to achieve the balance between sustainability, production outputs, and health benefits, we have to stop focusing on brand names. Instead of emphasizing labels, we need to look at different farming practices and the chemicals involved and judge them independently of whether they fall under organic standards.

In the meantime, buy fresh, locally farmed produce, whether it’s organic or not; if you can talk to the farmers, you’ll know exactly what is and isn’t on your food. Wash it well, and you’ll get rid of most of whatever pesticides are on there, organic or synthetic. And eat lots and lots of fruits and vegetables—if there is anything that will improve your health, it’s that.



 

Before you say otherwise and get mad at me for mentioning it, rotenone is currently a USDA approved organic pesticide. It was temporarily banned, but reapproved in 2010. Before it was banned, it was the most commonly used organic pesticide, and now—well, without public data on pesticide use on organic farms, we have no idea how much it is being used today.

Food picture from FreeFoto.Com

Christie Wilcox About the Author: Christie Wilcox is a science writer and blogger who moonlights as a PhD student in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii. Follow on Google+. Follow on Twitter @NerdyChristie.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.



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  1. 1. Jayv9779 10:20 am 09/24/2012

    The pesticides are a side benefit if anything. The flavor of the organic food I grew up with is superior to the normal store bought. The organic delivery we get is also better. Some of it can be related to peak season but it also relates to bigger is not always better. Sometimes in cases such as tomatoes we try to make them big but they just don’t maintain the flavor. Organic for us is not a huge financial difference maybe a couple dollars. I am more often than not disappointed in normal store bought fruits and veggies.

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  2. 2. TobyNSaunders 11:49 am 09/24/2012

    TLTR but I get the idea (skimmed through). A great thing about organic is it causes comparatively less environmental damage.

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  3. 3. MomentsOfReflection 11:55 am 09/24/2012

    This is an article that is written very well. The arguments and supporting data have been articulated very well. Kudos !

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  4. 4. MomentsOfReflection 12:02 pm 09/24/2012

    Here is my Summary of the article
    a) Food contains pesticides, both synthetic and organic.
    b) Organic food is assumed to contain a reduced amount of pesticides. This is only partly true;Yes it contains reduced amount of “synthetic” pesticides, however the foods may contain large quantities of organic pesticides, whose harmful effects are neither studied nor documented.
    c)Additionally, the author argues that a presence of pesticide doesn’t automatically imply that the food is unsafe. The use of pesticides is regulated and the quantities that are present in foods represent a fraction of the quantity that is considered safe for human consumption.

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  5. 5. bgaulke 12:25 pm 09/24/2012

    I agree with Jayv9779, but in addition, a missed point is that avoiding food that has been grown with pesticides is better for farm workers and in at least some cases for the environment as well.

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  6. 6. earthlover 12:30 pm 09/24/2012

    If this doesn’t read like a paid for big ag piece I don’t know what does. Does Monsanto or one of the big chemical companies give grants to your university?

    [CW] All funding I have received is freely available on my website. And I’m happy to say, not a penny comes from Monsanto or any other agricultural, pharmaceutical, or chemical company. I don’t know what they give to other researchers, as I haven’t gotten any of it.

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  7. 7. mw111 1:46 pm 09/24/2012

    This article is a bait and switch that confuses the issues more than anything else. I don’t know anyone eating organic because of concerns about pesticide acute toxicology (which is the first 60% of this column), but about cancer from long-term exposure. I also don’t know anyone who would expect that a person who eats lots of fruit and vegetables (conventional or organic) would be at higher risk of cancer than someone who doesn’t which is guaranteed to be confounded by a million lifestyle differences. The only data point that would be relevant is not available, namely the long-term cancer incidence rate in people who consume organic vs inorganic vegetables and fruit in equal amounts between the populations. And then concluding with a recommendation to eat “local” food which is just a meaningless boondoggle, based on the insane idea that after a column citing a bunch scientific studies, we should instead just trust whatever the dude at the farmer’s market tells us he does to his crops, is pretty incredible…

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  8. 8. tlmorrison 4:44 pm 09/24/2012

    JayV, I have been growing my own veggies organically for decades. I cannot honestly say they taste better than store bought non-organics. Tomatoes taste better, but I believe that to be more a matter of the varieties I grow as opposed to a natural organic superiority. Furthermore, my daughter opened a tea shop. Her original vision was to have all organic teas. However, when we did our tastings of teas, we did blind tastings, and we were surprised to find that organic teas were actually rarely better than non-organic teas. I don’t think you can make the statement you make about flavor without blind taste tests. Do you think the Napa valley wine growers could have won a taste test in France back in the 1970s unless the French judges had done a blind tasting? I think not.

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  9. 9. E81ER 5:00 pm 09/24/2012

    Great piece, I wish more food/farming articles were written this well.

    If you’re feeling brave, I’d like to hear your thoughts on GM foods, traditional hybridizing techniques, natural mutations etc…

    I promise to read the whole article before denouncing you as a shill for Monsanto and sharing an anecdote about the time my grandmother nominated her heirloom veggies for beatification.

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  10. 10. julianpenrod 5:08 pm 09/24/2012

    This may cause this to be remvoed, but, in fact, Christie Wilcox’s entiure “discussion” is a solid example of verbal misdirection and misrepresentation.
    As a start, consider that the title asks if “lower pesticide residues are a good reason to buy organic”, while, only a couple of paragraphs later, it is rephrased as “does the science support paying significantly more for organic foods just to avoid synthetic pesticides”. The second has nothing to do with resideues, but economics. It also doesn’t say that it’s worth it to get organic foods to avoid pesticides, it says that “science” doesn’t support doing that. But there is no verification that “science” can be trusted. If “scinece’ says these two statements are necessarily equivalent, then it can’t be trusted.
    And saying “a pesticide is a pesticide” is similarly profoundly misleading. It doesn’t mention that the effective dose of one pesticide might be much less than another, the amount that affects humans might differ between them, the ability to wash them off might differ, the tendency to react with other compounds to make the effects worse might not be the same between them.
    Note the, frankly, craven dodge os saying that most natural pesticides “haven’t been tested for their toxic potential, as the Reduced Risk Program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) applies to synthetic pesticides only”. Devotees of “science” will readily find a reasonableness in that. How unfair of the EPA not to test for the toxicity of natural pesticides! How can we know how dangerous they are? Why doesn’t “science” in general test for that? Why declare, as Christie Wilcox does” that natural pesticides are dangerous to humans if that kind of testing hadn’t been done?
    And saying that organic pesticides are “more acutely toxic” doesn’t indict them, as “science” devotees can allow themselves to be duped into thinking, that simply means that much less of each needs to be used!
    Which brings up the accusation that certain natural pesticides are found in levels on harvested plants that “exceeded safe limits”. If the EPA only established guidelines for synthetic pesticides, where are these new “safe limits” coming from? Where, exactly, is it specified that the natural pesticides that are found in such supposed excessive amounts on plants weren’t part of the composition of some synthetic mixtures? Christie Wilcox asserts that natural pesticides can contain some synthetic ones, so nothing says synthetic pesticides don’t include massive amounts of natural pesticides.
    Frankly, there is almost no statement made in the article that is completely free of ambiguity.

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  11. 11. kangaroo2 5:51 pm 09/24/2012

    Some studies I’ve read do conclude that it is safer for pregnant women to eat organic, since the developing baby is much more sensitive to very small exposures: http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/575813/?sc=c6237

    This is also seemed like a key sentence: “There are virtually no studies of any size that have evaluated the effects of organic v. conventionally-grown foods.” Thus, she explains, “conclusions cannot be drawn regarding potentially beneficial or adverse nutritional consequences, to the consumer, of increased consumption of organic food.”

    I wish the author had talked more about which types of produce (other than olives) contain high levels of organic pesticides.

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  12. 12. marclevesque 6:54 pm 09/24/2012

    “If we want to achieve the balance between sustainability, production outputs, and health benefits, we have to stop focusing on brand names.”

    I was happy to read that. I feel it should have been somehow reflected in the article’s title. As is, the title seems to imply an a priori acceptance of dividing farming practices into the sweeping group labels organic and non-organic and I would not be surprised if representatives of large scale mono crop industrial farming and marketing representatives of companies like Monsanto who supply these companies would consider this article an overall win for their ‘side’.

    “Instead of emphasizing labels, we need to look at different farming practices and the chemicals involved and judge them independently of whether they fall under organic standards.”

    Agreed, ‘good’ farming practices need to be better qualified and quantified.

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  13. 13. marclevesque 7:10 pm 09/24/2012

    @ [CW] @ 6. earthlover

    “I don’t know what they give to other researchers, as I haven’t gotten any of it.”

    ? … : )

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  14. 14. zstansfi 7:22 pm 09/24/2012

    Thanks for a well-written article Christie.

    I can see some of the vitriol seeping out from between the cracks in a few of the replies. You’d think this article had “Monsanto-approved” stamped on it or something.

    A pretty clear summary of the science of this piece is as follows:

    “Low level pesticide use is an important factor in all kinds of farming, including both organic and conventional. Organic food has not been shown to provide any health benefits by research studies. Long term effects, including cancer rates are also largely unaffected. Organic and inorganic pesticides should not be assumed a priori to be more or less harmful without first considering the dose, and given the paucity of safety data or quantification of organic pesticide use, the claim that “organic” inherently means “less pesticide exposure” is one which lacks empirical support.”

    The predominant “opinion” expressed in this piece, which is about as flagrantly reasonable as I have ever seen, is equivalent to saying:

    “Don’t buy organic just because you believe that there is evidence that organic farming is safer than conventional farming. Do some due diligence instead.”

    Rather than personally attacking the author’s purported monetary connections, why don’t some of the commenters respond with some citations to the primary literature as to the evidence for their own beliefs?

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  15. 15. strend 8:30 pm 09/24/2012

    Further validation of “natural” pesticides (insecticides, fungicides etc) in the form of bio control products (bacteria / fungus); when used on “organic” crops, not being safer than chemicals can be found at http://biotechawareness.com/index~option~com_content~view~article~id~227~Itemid~1.php

    This information was taken from the following two (2) publications; Molecular mechanisms of pathogenicity:

    1. How do Pathogenic microorganisms develop cross-kingdom host jumps?

    2. BIOLOGICAL SAFETY – Principles and Practices; LABORATORY, GROWTH CHAMBER AND GREENHOUSE MICROBIAL SAFETY: PLANT PATHOGENS AND PLANT-ASSOCIATED MICROORGANISMS OF SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMAN HEALTH by ANNE K VIDAVER, SUE A. TOLIN, AND PATRICIA LAMBRECHT

    and the 2006 presentation given by Anne K Vidaver during the three day workshop titled, “Microbial Biopesticides and Transgenic Insecticides – Enhancing Regulatory Communication”. This workshop was held in Washington DC, at the University of California Center on Regulatory Communication and was sponsored by the University of California-Riverside, the USDA and the EPA.

    Federal Agencies and their representatives, as well as universities from around the country, moderated the three day workshop and/or gave presentations over a period of three days. SEE http://biopesticide.ucr.edu/video/video.html

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  16. 16. Metridia 9:17 pm 09/24/2012

    “There are virtually no studies of any size that have evaluated the effects of organic v. conventionally-grown foods.”

    Ok, in other words, NO justification for the words “Probably not” in your title.

    “People who eat more fruits and vegetables have significantly lower incidences of cancers, and those who eat the most are two times less likely to develop cancer than those who eat the least.”

    In other words, this says absolutely nothing about organic compared to conventional produce.

    You also fail to distinguish between toxicity and carcinogenicity in your discussion of organic vs. conventional pesticides.

    However, I do agree that exposure from other sources, such as plastic food containers, is likely to be a bigger source of organic pollutants in the human body.

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  17. 17. doctordawg 1:39 am 09/25/2012

    This whole article is so out of character for a marine biologist nerd. Why did you write this, really? There’s a huge push of articles slamming organics right now – all of a sudden. Why?

    CW repeatedly states that there is not nearly enough info out there to have an informed opinion on the matter, then offers just such an opinion masquerading as science. She completely ignores the market forces that push the price of organics up – scarcity, desirability,and cost of production, and ridiculously states “But does the science support paying significantly more for organic foods just to avoid synthetic pesticides? No” IMMEDIATELY after stating that organics have less synthetic pesticides. Yes, synthetic pesticides CAN be part of this healthy breakfast, but I’ll pass, thank you.

    This whole line of thought implies we should avoid organic foods until science proves them to be harmful. How will science accomplish this? By counting the additional cancers brought on by synthetic pesticide exposure? Are we to be willing lab rats?

    There’s no mention of the inorganic arsenic found in dangerous quantities in rice by Consumer Reports this month, but no shock that conventional pesticides with inorganic arsenic would cause rice to be tainted with inorganic arsenic. The word “duh” comes to mind.

    It’s all so weirdly out of character for this writer. Applying for a job somewhere? Lost a bet to someone? Just odd.

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  18. 18. MBendzela 8:16 am 09/25/2012

    What more can one add? This is a splendid article.

    I got out of the “organics” business about three years ago because of the rising cognitive dissonance between what I was doing on the farm where I worked and the claims being made by the organics industry and its acolytes.

    There was nothing wrong with the organic farm where I worked: They labored hard and produced some good stuff and connected with many people in the community. My own farm is virtually identical to the organic farm–but I will never, ever seek organic certification, given the way the movement conducts itself.

    During my last year of employment there, the organic farm sent me to a training session at MOFGA, Maine’s organics central, to learn how to properly apply pesticides. It was at this training that “the penny finally dropped.”

    If all farmers, organic and conventional, have to learn how to reduce risks by using the same application standards, then why all the fuss about “pesticide residues” and such?

    Because the organics industry has initiated a propaganda campaign against ALL other farmers, under the fake category “conventional,” in order to scare consumers away from products that are not “organically certified.”

    The organic farmers usually do not themselves participate in issuing these calumnies against their fellow farmers. They leave that to the Organic Consumers Association and mouthy ideologues like the anti-vaccine Ronnie Cummins. They leave it to the egregious Environmental Working Group with their stupendously misleading “Dirty Dozen” list.

    Finally, they have the popular quacks on their side: “Dr.” Mercola, Mike Adams, and the like.

    Christie Wilcox’s article delivers a powerful corrective to the farrago of misinformation spread by the organics industry.

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  19. 19. mwenner 10:55 am 09/25/2012

    Really interesting counterpoint article. You make a lot of great points. But when talking about exposure levels and ADIs, I think it’s important to remember that these values/guidelines are based on *linear* dose-response curves. As you point out yourself later in the piece, with pesticides there is the issue of hormesis: some of these pesticides follow U- or inverted-U-shaped dose/response curves. Ultimately, ADIs / risk assessments assume that lower doses cause smaller effects, but hormesis tells us this is not always an accurate assumption.

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  20. 20. vmcmains 11:21 am 09/25/2012

    I can attest to the toxicity of conventional pesticides (however I am probably in a very small minority). I am sensitive to conventional pesticides, which cause me to break out in hives. I was on steroids and 4 different anti-histamines for 18 months to control the hives. I finally figured out after much trial and error that switching to organically grown fruits and veggies eliminated my hives. The hives still come back if I eat conventional for about a week straight. My body perceives the pesticides as a toxin and I have an extremely volatile inflammation response. I am not so much worried about the carcinogenic effects of long term pesticide use (we are all going to die somehow), but I am extremely worried about my current quality of life.

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  21. 21. Istym4me 11:57 am 09/25/2012

    julianpenrod Agreed.

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  22. 22. Kelly Clowers 12:15 pm 09/25/2012

    I have to say this article seems like a terrible idea.

    No doubt the use of organic/non-synthetic pesticides is an issue, for human health and for the environment. They need to be fully tested, and perhaps many, perhaps all of them need to be banned as well. But the synthetics need a lot more testing as well. As one example, I note the article does not mention endocrine issues at all, a growing area of concern.

    It is especially great that “There are virtually no studies of any size that have evaluated the effects of organic v. conventionally-grown foods.”, yet it “is not worth it”. In absence of such studies I will judge the if the costs are worth it for *myself*, thank you very much. And I judge that they *are* worth it.

    You also point out that there are many other sources of pollution/toxins/carcinogens/etc. Well, duh. That is why I do what I can to reduce my exposure from all of them. Some are less avoidable than others, but that is no reason to unnecessarily expose yourself. And where you cannot directly avoid exposure by personal choices, push for changes in public policy and vote in the economy with your dollars anyway.

    “Organic” as currently certified is not the answer to a completely healthy, sustainable environment, by a long shot. It doesn’t go far enough, and it completely misses many areas by its nature. But it is a step in the right direction. If you do not take one step, then another, and then another, you will never get to your destination.

    Link to this
  23. 23. mheinricht 12:36 pm 09/25/2012

    It’s not just about pesticides, although we’ve already made a clear link between pesticides and colony collapse.

    It’s also about soil health that is being destroyed by repeated applications of synthetic fertilizers. The greatest diversity on earth is in the soil ecosystem and synthetic agricultural practices have enabled monoculture farming and repeated cycles of the same crop which reduce the fertility of soil and thus its ability to support diverse beneficial communities. Through this reduction in fertility we are experiencing greater losses of soil through wind and water erosion; we are losing 1 percent of the arable land worldwide each year as climate stress and poor soil stewardship increase desertification.

    A great read on this topic is “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” by David R. Montgomery of the Univeristy of Washington. Civilizations have fallen when they stopped being good stewards of the soil.

    Link to this
  24. 24. MrsKramer 3:00 pm 09/25/2012

    I think this author needs to go back to the drawing board and do more research on the limitations of toxicological risk assessment models before promoting the fraudulent concept that pesticides, naturally occurring or manmade, are proven to be good for you.

    This article accurately points out that nature’s pesticides are used in organic produce, while manmade pesticides are used in GMO. However, the article makes an illogical argument not founded in legitimate science that just because organic produce uses natural pesticides and GMO used manmade, both are safe for consumption; and that this is proven by toxicology risk assessment models which state, no evidence of causation of illness.

    The article erroneously points to hormesis as proof to support this false concept of the paper. However, Calabrese, father of hormesis, accurately points out that toxicology risk models which are used to claim proof of causation or lack there of, are pure hocus pocus, never vetted science. Calabrese on linear threshold assessment models and the misapplication of them in policy: http://freepdfhosting.com/b6fe5a07f4.pdf

    The science that the article is omitting that completely changes the color of a flawed hypothesis jumping to a nonsequitor of conclusion, is that it is known manmade pesticides are causing genetic changes in crops and causing dominant strains of fungi and their toxins, such as aspergillus and aflatoxins to emerge. This is making it increasingly difficult for both manmade and naturally occurring pesticides to be effective in combatting mycotoxin growth in produce.

    This toxin laden produce is being eaten by the animals we eat, causing a double dose of toxins in our food. No linear risk assessment model can determine if it is safe or unsafe for consumption – and then profess it is safe because there is no evidence found in the irrelevant risk assessment models. It is a circular argument founded on the unscientific concept that “It is because we say it is.”

    The Science Fraud: Mold toxins, or mycotoxins, are secondary metabolites of mold and are naturally occurring chemicals. It is not even close to legitimate exposure science to make such a fraudulent claim that extrapolations applied to a mechanistic research model can be used by themselves as proof of no injury or death of individuals from an exposure in actual field conditions.

    As stated by the National Academy of Sciences, Third Edition, References On Scientific Evidence: “Models are idealized mathematical expressions of the relationship between two or more variables. They are usually derived from basic physical and chemical principles that are well established under idealized circumstances, but may not be validated under actual field conditions. Models thus cannot generate completely accurate predictions of chemical concentrations in the environment.”

    I don’t know that this was the author’s intent, but what this article also did was something straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook, i.e. attribute other possible causes of illness to deflect from the fact that increasing toxins in our food sources are causing increasing illness in the population. Just like they have done for years with cigarettes and problems with indoor air quality, this article claims to prove pesticides do not cause illness because other things cause illness. That is not even close to a logical argument to claim proof that pesticides are good for you because other things are bad for you.

    To quote from the article: “In other words, you have more to fear from your home than from your food. Your home probably contains more pesticides than you ever imagined. Plastics and paints often contain fungicides to prevent mold—fungi that, by the way, can kill you.”

    So now we are using poor indoor air quality to sell doubt of causation of illness from food? I thought we used food to sell doubt of causation from poor indoor air quality!

    “There is not sufficient evidence to link health effects to indoor exposure to airborne mycotoxins, although ingestion of moldy food with mycotoxins has resulted in illness.” http://www.mtsu.edu/ehs/docs/Frequently_Asked_Questions_about_Mold.pdf

    The reality is, our use of pesticides to increase crop production, both naturally occurring and manmade, are contributing to the proliferation of biohazards in our environment. Whether one comes in contact with the biohazards via touch, ingestion or inhalation; they can and are causing increased chronic illness and weakening of the immune system in the human population.

    Journal of Environmental and Public Health:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270432/?tool=pmcentrez9.

    Link to this
  25. 25. MBendzela 6:41 pm 09/25/2012

    Mrs Kramer, I tried to read your response, to give you the benefit of the doubt, but when you say things like “This toxin laden produce is being eaten by the animals we eat,” I just can’t take you seriously and stop reading.

    Link to this
  26. 26. BBjorke 11:10 pm 09/25/2012

    why do labs that use the fruit fly as a model organism have to use organic sugar and grape fruit juice to feed the flies? BECAUSE THEY DIE WHEN FED NON-ORGANIC. This directly argues against Ms. Wilcox’s hypothesis. There is a difference between organic and non-organic products.

    Furthermore, naturally occurring pesticides that are found in the part of a plant we eat (not seeds) are neuroprotective. While synthetic pesticides have been linked to numerous neurodegenerative diseases (too many to cite here).

    This article is misleading because it is incorrect and furthermore fails to address the major problems associated with current non-organic farming practices such as 1-monoculture, 2-environmental impact (Rotenone does not cause frogs to have three legs, or become hermaphrodites), 3- lack of long term studies on synthetic pesticides and 4- use of antibiotics (meat industry).

    I buy produce at my local co-op where the definition of organic is the old definition (not the USDA’s new definition of organic), and where I can support local farmers making the right decision regarding their land and my health. Plants are not sprayed with any pesticide, instead natural methods (crop rotation, planting with weeds to attract pests, etc.) are used. It is not surprising that there is no difference between Walmart/USDA “organic” and non. They changed the definition so there would not be. The next blog should be on that- the definition of organic according to the USDA.

    Link to this
  27. 27. MrsKramer 11:11 pm 09/25/2012

    MBendzela,

    Each to their own. You don’t have to read anything you don’t want to read…but you might want to watch out for fungal toxins in the corn you eat this year or the fungal toxins in the animals you eat who have eaten the corn. Search the phrase “mycotoxins in animal feed” or search the phrase “dominant strains of aspergillus” to understand that it is not just the crops themselves that are being genetically modified as a result of the use of pesticides.

    Bon Appetit!

    Link to this
  28. 28. DawnieRotten 1:18 am 09/26/2012

    It seems to me that Ms. Wilcox is just another Globalist, government shrill spreading the junk science of her Globalist Corporate Media Masters (Scientific American). I’ll take Organic, Non-GMO foods over the other soft-kill garbage any day, thank you! And I suppose that the chemicals ( barium, aluminum, polymer fibers, thorium, and silicon carbide to name a few) that are being dumped on ALL of us on an almost continuous basis via CHEM-trail spraying is no big deal either. Air is air (“A Pesticide Is A Pesticide”); Right??
    University of Hawaii at Manoa?? And Hawaii is getting nailed by CHEM-trails!! Try visiting some of the Organic Farmers that are featured in the documentaries, “WHAT In The World Are They Spraying?” and the recently released, “WHY In The World Are They Spraying?”. I think you need to stop pursuing your PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology; you’re clearly NOT “Scientist material”!! We don’t need anymore Mad, Junk Scientists!!!
    I hope Ms. Wilcox is eating lots and lots of NON-Organic, GMO “foods”. I SO love Karma!! :)

    Link to this
  29. 29. Morii 4:40 am 09/26/2012

    Thanks for the artice, Christie. While I am sympathetic to much of the organic movement, I think it’s all to common that people fall for the naturalistic fallacy. The first question to ask about a compound should’t be ‘is it natural’, but rather ‘is it safe?’ and ‘is it effective?’ And being a natural product is no guarantee of either.

    @BBjorke: I’m sorry, dont know where you heard about organics in fruit fly labs, but thats not correct. I work with Drosophila myself, and we aren’t at all fussed about whether or not their media is made with organic produce. Our ‘grape juice plates’ are made up with the cheapest brand of apple juice you can get off the shelves. It work just fine as a source of fructose, which is all we really need it for.
    And to be honest, even table sugar that you buy at the supermarket is probably so highly processed that you would struggle to find any pesticide traces left in the product.
    (Our flies tend to have the greatest mortality when we’re deliberately dosing them up with toxins we’re studying. )

    Also, Rotenone is not benign to frogs species, it can straight out kill tadpoles. Another problem with Rotenone thats not mentioned here is that it’s an extremely broad spectrum pesticide. You’ll easily kill off a lot of non target insects as well. This does have a considerable impact on the local environment, especially if you’re spraying over a sizable area.

    @Dawnie Rotten: I think I’ll take the advice of Ms. Wilcox of a spluttering, chemtrail believing nutter, thank you.

    Link to this
  30. 30. Happy Hal 11:01 pm 09/26/2012

    I’ve heard from a agriculturist that an ‘organic’ field can produce tempting crops for approximately three years. In the fourth year, the weeds, fungi and insects have all regenerated, and to get a reasonable crop, it takes two years of weed removal, fungicide, and insecticide, to bring the field back to Organic Standards. Perhaps this is why organic food, is more expensive, but those who think it tastes better……….
    I have a viaduct in Toronto, for sale, cheap.

    Link to this
  31. 31. kenwa2010 5:12 am 09/27/2012

    how productive would vegetables grown without any biocides at all be? their immunosystems should function perfectly.

    Link to this
  32. 32. marclevesque 9:26 am 09/27/2012

    In another comment I questioned the wording of the title but that does not mean I question the author’s intentions or think poorly of the article.

    I think I can be more balanced and clear in my comments –overall I think this article is very good and brings forth a much needed questioning of farming practices : how they are labeled and regulated, and the standards involved.

    Link to this
  33. 33. strend 3:54 am 09/28/2012

    A “NATURAL” pesticide, insecticide, fungicide.. etc. is one that is found in the environment. This is why it is called “natural”, because it is naturally found. Just because it is naturally found, and not a chemical… does NOT mean it is safe to be used on our food crops. Also, these “NATURAL” bio-control products are NOT a 100% “active ingredient”. Some are as little as .07%; WHAT is the “other” ingredients that we are not afforded the opportunity to know? Are there chemicals added to these bacteria and fungus based bio-control products? Are there other bacteria and/or fungi in the product that we don’t know about because only the active ingredient is required to be listed on the label? How many of the following are used on ORGANIC crops?

    As you will find below “NATURAL” bacteria and fungi that I have listed that are used in bio-control products cause a lot of diseases in humans… this is known to governmental agencies and IGNORED.

    [References shown are at the end]

    Agrobacterium radiobacter AKA: Rhizobium radiobacter

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Opportunist pathogen; bacterial endophthalmitis; bacteremia; endocarditis; peritonitis; urinary tract infections 8 However, it apparently causes opportunist diseases in people, and a variety of diseases all the way from blood stream to heart problems and urinary tract infections and so on. Now, the majority of the diseases that I’m going to talk about in humans are rare; but, there will be a few that are not so rare; and I’ll try to point those out when we come to those. And obviously, for anybody in the regulatory arena, this causes at least a plausible thought, but I’ll indicate what some of the challenges are with this. 9

    *Plant Host:
    Wide host range 7 Plant associated bacteria, rhizosphere; Registered biocontrol agent for crown gall. Strain K84 (Galltrol A; AgBioChem Inc., Orinda, Calif) in fruit, nut and ornamentalnursery stock and strain K1026 (Norgall; Bio-Care Technology Pty Ltd., Somersby New South Wales Australia) for control of crown gall on fruit and nut trees, caneberries, roses and other ornamentals. 8 Plant associated bacteria, rhizosphere 8 Now, Agrobacterium radiobacter is one of [inaudible] reported [inaudible] of being a pathogen as far as I known, and that is problematic. Never-the-less, it is the poster child for bio-control in bacteriology and plant pathology. And the organism K84 has been around for years now, and is also a poster child for the transgenic part of biotech microbial release of a biocontrol agent. Again, for beneficial control of crown gall disease, principally on fruits of various crops. It’s been extremely beneficial, and this has been the instances for many people to work in biocontrol. 9

    agrobacterium tumefaciens AKA Rhizobium tumefaciens

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Peritionitis; bacteremias; urinary tract infection 8

    *Plant Host:
    Agent of crown gall with wide host 8 In Agrobacterium tumefaciens; otherwise known as the agent of crown gall with a very wide post range, it can cause a variety of problems as well. On the other hand; Agrobacterium tumefaciens, is, as I think most people know, has been extremely critical to the biotech industry for getting [inaudible] plants. 9

    aspergillus flavus AKA Aspergillus oryzae

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Opportunistic infection 7 Systemic aspergillosis; endocarditis 8 … never-the-less it has been reported to have generalized infection in people and can be a problem in heart disease as well. 9

    *Plant Host
    Cotton, peanut, maize seed 7 Pathogen and saprophyte, has many hosts and causes such diseases as ear and kernel rot of maize; yellow mold of peanut; boll rot of cotton 8 BIOPESTICIDE: A. flavus strain AF36 (Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council, Phoenix, Ariz.) a non-toxin-producing strain registered (EPA) on cotton fields in Texas and aflatoxin-producing Arizona for control of strains of A. flavus which produce aflatoxin.  A. flavus strain NRRL 21882, registered for use in peanut crops to control aflatoxin-producing strain of A. flavus (Circle One Global, Inc., Shellman, GA.) 8 This is one that is also not only a pathogen of corn, but moldy peanuts and boll rot on cotton and is very extensive. There is a strain for control of A. fluvus and cotton, and I believe it works essentially as a competitive exclusion 9

    Bacillus pumilus

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Oral mucosal inflammation 8

    Plant Host:
    Bacterial blotch of immature Balady peach; Registered biocontrol agent, strain GB34 YIELD SHIELD; Gustafson, Plano, Tex.)  for control of soilborne fungal pathogens causing root disease in soybean 8

    Bacillus megaterium – bacteria – gram negative

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Oral mucosal inflammation 8 And this has been linked with oral muscosal inflammation. 9

    Plant Host:
    White blotch of wheat and bacterial wetwood of poplar and elm 8 a minor pathogen of a variety of plants, going from wheat to trees, but has a biocontrol agent to control a number of fungi.  So while the biocontrol agent may itself be a single organism in general,  the idea is to have a wide host range for a number of fungi. 9

    Burkholderia spp. & Burkholderia cepacia

    *EFFECTORS THAT PLAY A ROLE IN PATHOGENICITY WITH CROSS-KINGDOM TARGETS: Pathogenicity factors: LPS AHL synthase, porin exopolysaccharides Characteristics: Endotoxin amino acid transport, secretion Mode of action: Induces necrosis via TNFR induction especially in lung tissue; amino acid metabolism during parasitic growth, evasion of immune system, tissue invasion and damage 7

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related: Opportunistic infection; 7 Bacteremia; pulmonary complex; serious respiratory pathogen in cystic fibrosis patients; bacteremia, cardiac cirrhosis; cellulitis; endophthalmitis 8 Now when we come to Burkholderia cepacia there’s going to be some more presentation about Burkholderia cepacia; probably more than I have here. 9 Well, this is a disease partially known for creating a problem in lung tissue and particularly in patients with Cystic Fibrosis; however, there’re other diseases that it can be involved with. 9 At one time there was a biocontrol agent, actually it was going to be applied for soil-borne fungi I believe, maybe we’ll hear more about that later. It had to be taken off the market because of objections through the American Medical Association. This is one of the two cases that I know of where you actually do have evidence, as apposed to conjecture, that genes for plants, that cause disease, and genes that can cause disease in humans are on the same strain.  That is not true for all strains of Burkholderia cepacia, but it is true for at least a few that have been so characterized. Very unusual and very challenging, of course if you’re ready to talk about a biocontrol agent. 9

    Plant Host: Onion (B. cepacia) 7 Sour skin of onion; cavity disease of Agaricus bitorguis; phytoremediation; endophyte 8 It’s a minor pathogen on plants, but it can also cause disease in mushrooms and it has also been used in phytoremediation  and has occasionally been found as an endophyte. 9

    Enterobacter cloacae

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related: Septicemia and respiratory tract infections; gas gangrene 8 It caused generalized infections; respiratory tract infections and gas gangrene 8 And for those of you not familiar with bacteria; this is in the same family as e-coli, some of the notorious e-coli. 9

    Plant Host: Wetwood on elm, internal decay of onion and rhizome rot of edible ginger. 8 it can cause diseases on trees and in onions and in ginger; but can also, at least in the literature,  be known as a biocontrol agent.  I don’t believe that any have been turned over to the EPA, or anyone else yet, for actual potential commercialization. 9

    Pantoea agglomerans AKA Enterobacter agglomerans, Erwinia herbicola

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Nosocomial/opportunistic infections; septic arthritis 8 You’ve already heard about the possibility of acquired infections; this is one of the organisms that has been reported of possible  acquired infections and can also be reported in arthritis.  More and more bacteria by the way are being reported to cause of some chronic diseases 9

    Plant Host:
    Pathogen of Wisteria and onion; wetwood of elm; black flesh of pineapple and grapefruit; spot disease and frost damage on corn, soy and clover; disease of millet; Saprophyte 8 Pantoea agglomerans; is known by a number of different names, and in the literature; the plant pathology literature, there are a number of strains that have been proposed for biological control, usually by competitive exclusion and they work very well under some conditions, but have not yet been commercialized and may not for a number of reasons.  But, it is also a pathogen of Wisteria and onions and some trees and  a wide variety of plants; not the same strains of course. 9

    Pseudomonas fluorescens

    ◊Human / Mammalian Medical Related:
    Bacteremia

    *Plant Host:
    Registered biocontrol for Erwinia amylovora on apple, cherry, almond and pear (Blight Ban A506; Frost Technology Corporation, Burr Ridge Ill; frost protection on fruit crops, almond, tomato, and potato to reduce frost-forming bacteria on leaves and blossoms (Frostban: Frost Technology Corporation) 8

    REFERENCES:
    7. FEMS Microbiol Rev, Apr;31(3):239-277; Molecular mechanisms of pathogenicity: how do pathogenic microorganisms develop cross-kingdom host jumps?
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1574-6976.2007.00065.x/full

    8.  BIOLOGICAL SAFETY – Principles and Practices; LABORATORY, GROWTH CHAMBER AND GREENHOUSE MICROBIAL SAFETY: PLANT PATHOGENS AND PLANT-ASSOCIATED MICROORGANISMS OF SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMAN HEALTH by ANNE K VIDAVER, SUE A. TOLIN, AND PATRICIA LAMBRECHT – 4th edition
    http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/VIDAVER.pdf

    9. “Cross-infective microbes: from plants to humans” by Anne Vidaver; 
Enhancing Regulatory Communication Workshop November 2006
    http://biopesticide.ucr.edu/video/assets/MOV00F_Vidaver.wmv

    Link to this
  34. 34. strend 4:00 am 09/28/2012

    In my comment above; reference # 9, “Cross-infective microbes: from plants to humans” by Anne Vidaver; Enhancing Regulatory Communication Workshop November 2006
    http://biopesticide.ucr.edu/video/assets/MOV00F_Vidaver.wmv you will note that Dr. Vidaver’s presentation was given before numerous Federal Agencies; which have to do with the safety of plant diseases and the bacteria and fungi which are used in bio-control products.

    I would ask that you PLEASE take the time to watch it. Dr Vidaver was desperately trying to get everyone at the 2006 workshop to pay attention to what she had to say.  IT SEEMS TO HAVE FALLEN ON DEAF EARS. 

    Only a fraction of her warnings are as follows::

    “So, you might want to know why do we have this topic for this workshop. Well, because there are some organisms that are used as microbial pesticides or prospective microbial pesticides, and in my experience, plant pathologist don’t know about some of these microbes and the medical community conversely does not. And it’s unfortunate that with all the people … regulatory agencies, we’re missing a few internationally; hopefully learn from what I plan to say, mainly the Food and Drug Administration nationally needs help.”

    “I’m going to talk about some illustrations of plants; plant/human cross infections and use those as examples, and then I’ll talk about what this actually could mean, both to the scientific community and to the regulated community and challenges for regulators as well … so.”

    “More and more bacteria by the way are being reported to be the cause of some chronic diseases.”

    “The prospective virtue of fungi; which I’ll talk more about later, is that in some ways they are more desirable as microbial control agents; but I’ll say more about why that is.”

    “Now, the majority of the diseases that I’m going to talk about in humans are rare; but, there will be a few that are not so rare; and I’ll try to point those out when we come to those. And obviously, for anybody in the regulatory arena, this causes at least a plausible thought, but I’ll indicate what some of the challenges are with this.”

    “OK, so first of all, what am I talking about? The terms are not yet agreed upon what this means. You can talk about organisms that are cross infected; mainly go to from plants to humans. You can also call them cross-over pathogens and you can also call them Cross, or inter-kingdom pathogens, and Dr. Tauxe from the CDC invented the term as far as I know. Phytoses to force on with zoo-onoces, that is organisms that go from animals to people. What they are not; is they’re not overlapped pathogens in the select agent list with the FDA and AMA.”

    “One of the important questions for people in … the more we know in the way; the less we know is actually do we classify organisms? I mean this is a human endeavor but we have to do this in order to communicate.”

    ” One place I think that there’s something missing, and it is not perhaps straight forward to talk about, is that we could have an interdisciplinary program across agencies, there’s certainly interagency programs already in many areas, but we do not have any, as far as I know, that incorporate USDA and NIH [inaudible], certainly in this area of cross-infective microorganisms.”

    ” I dare say the medical community has no idea that some of these are really a problem in plants and the plant community has no idea that these are problems in medicine.”

    ” Actually, the question really for the medical community and even for the plant community is, are we talking about the same organism? In many cases, that’s still very much the question.”

    “And so, then how we do this is still a very fluid field, and this is good; but it’s a very challenging area then for anyone who is in the regulatory arena. ”

    ” This is also then true in terms of nanoclature. What are you going to name an organism? How are you going to identify it, and then how are you going to characterize any group of individuals [inaudible] by rank?”

    ” And then for species; at least for the present time, for bacteria you have a species being defined with at least 70% related misbind DNA.”

    “Homology: Well, some microbial geneticists believe that this is, in again, inappropriate maybe with what we know, but no one has yet come up with something that is actually being received well as an alternative, so this is still a challenge.”

    “What is the species? And I’m not sure even for the fungi that there is agreement on what is the species; and I don’t know about some of the other organisms as well.”

    “And then for defining a strain that you would actually use and that you would worry about stability, we’re talking about the descendants of a single isolation, your culture.”

    “Then there’s the question of what do you do about the host responses. How do you measure the population; even of plants or people or animals as the case may be, because we are not in a scattered population in any of those categories.”

    ” We need to know a lot more about induced and innate immunity; simply to be able to combat all these challenging organisms that are multiplying and changing at a faster rate than we are. ”

    “A DNA shuffling is going on often ; that is the rearrangement of genomes and how will this be actually seen by regulatory agencies is not clear. It could be [inaudible] that may come out in this workshop.”

    “Our model system analysis appropriate; it can all be complex depending on what you’re looking at it and many people that are on both sides of the fence, but in any case this is a challenge; both for the regulated community and the regulatory system.”

    Link to this
  35. 35. strend 6:42 am 09/28/2012

    Concerning the Microbial and Transgenic Insecticides – Enhancing Regulatory Communication 2006 three (3) day workshop that I have been speaking of in my prior comments to this article/blog; the list of moderator’s and presenter’s were with the following… FEDERAL AGENCIES: Center for Disease Control (CDC); Environment Protection Agency (EPA); Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division of the EPA (BPPD); Office of Pesticide Programs of the EPA (OPPT); International Atomic Energy Agency; National Institute of Health (NIH); United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service with the USDA (APHIS); Biotechnology Regulatory Service within USDA-APHIS (BRS); Plant Protection and Quarantine within USDA-APHIS (PPQ); Agricultural Research Service within USDA (ARS); Cooperative State Research Education Service within USDA (CSREES); Project Inter-regional Research Project #4 within USDA (IR-4); STATE AGENCIES: Department’s of Agricultural and Resource Economics; UNIVERSITIES: University of California – Riverside; University f Duguesne; University of Georgia; University of Illinois; University of Johns Hopkins; University of Kentucky; University of Maryland; University of Nebraska; University of Notre; University of Purdue; University of Rutgers; University of Yale and ONE PRIVATE COMPANY: Marrone Organic Innovations.

    You may ask; HOW do these bio-control products get registered and/or re-registered? Pam Marrone of Marrone Organic Innovations [formerly of Monsanto and founder of Agraquest, Founder - Chair of the Biopesticide Industry Alliance (BPIA) and Director of the Association of APPLIED IPM ECOLOGISTS (AAIE)] summed it up pretty well in her presentation during the 2006 workshop; Concerning Microbial and Transgenic Insecticides – Enhancing Regulatory Communication – Session 5: Regulation of and impacts on microbial biopesticides; Titled Impact of regulatory activity on emerging companies.
    http://biopesticide.ucr.edu/video/asset /MOV027_28_Marrone.wmv

    The following is found around 9 minutes into the video footage of Marrone’s presentation:

    “OK, Serenade took 20 months for registration, actually that seems fast to me now, but at the time…where was I? I started up the company in ‘95, I raised my first venture capital in ‘97, submitted the package for Serenade in ‘98 … 2000 it still wasn’t approved, investor’s were on my tail. I raised 20 million at that point. Investor’s were hounding me, they thought I was incompetent and… and what’s going on? AND SO, FINALLY WHAT THEY DID WAS THEY ACTUALLY CALLED THEIR CONGRESS PEOPLE ON THEIR OWN TO RATTLE AROUND AND PUT PRESSURE ON THE AGENCY TO APPROVE SERENADE. That does not endear you to the agency, actually it’s counter productive to do… to do that actually, but in this case I couldn’t hold back my investors there was… THEY WERE THE MONEY PEOPLE AND THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT WAS.”

    With reference to Agraquest’s product Serenade; the “active ingredient” is the strain of the bacterium Bacillus Subtilis that was discovered by Agraquest scientists in a peach orchard in Fresno, California (in many of Agraquest’s bio-control productsz.) Altho for years the biotech industry has has been touting this bacteria as being safe and ignoring the EPA’s 1997 FINAL risk assessment; (SEE http://www.epa.gov/oppt/biotech/pubs/fra/fra009.htm )

    Now, we find the research findings from the University of Delaware, “Bacillus Subtilis not Always a Good Bacterium, Scientists Reveal” as instead of boosting the plant immune system as we thought it did, the researcher at the University of Delaware said, “B. subtilis uses a secreted peptide to SUPPRESS the immune response in plants.”
    http://www.udel.edu/udaily/2013/sep/soil-bacteria-092112.html

    So, which is it? Boost or suppress?

    WHAT ABOUT THIS?
    For five (5) years; from 2005 to 2009 (or 2010) the fungus Muscodor albus, which was discovered in a Honduras rainforest by Gary Strobel of Montana State University, has been used as a fumigant, fungicide and Nematicide. It was given full approval by the USDA and the EPA to be used on our food crops, ornamentals etc.

    Then, the USDA-ARS Project 2010 Annual Report stated: “in light of new information on the health hazard of volatiles released by M. Albus.”  ”Meanwhile, Agraquest, Inc. (Davis, CA) obtained an exclusive license for use of M. albus.  All experiments with M. Albus, including those with cultures grown in university labs, require a Materials Transfer Agreement (MTA) with Agraquest, Inc.  An MTA between Agraquest and Oregon State University, completed in Sept. 2009, stipulated that Agraquest would provide OSU with a rye formulation of M. Albus.  However, in the process of pursuing EPA registration, AGRAQUEST DISCOVERED THAT VOLATILES PRODUCED BY THE FUNGUS POSE A SIGNIFICANT HUMAN HEALTH HAZARD. Agraquest is no longer making or handling Muscodor formulations, is no longer pursuing EPA registration, and IS DISCOURAGING THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY FROM WORKING WITH THIS ORGANISM BECAUSE OF THE TOXICITY OF THE ACTIVE INGREDIENT.” http://www.biotechawareness.com/images/MUSCODOR_ARS.jpg

    Were ANY of the companies which sold Muscodor albus products advised of the dangers? Were farmers and their workers advised? Were the employees at Agraquest, who were subjected to exposure/s to this bacteria contacted and followed through with health check-ups?

    Then we find; “Effect of water activity on the production of volatile organic compounds by Muscodor albus and their effect on three pathogens in stored potato”; Horticultural Research Centre, Pavillon de l’Envirotron, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada which states: “Rye grain culture of the fungus produced six alcohols, three aldehydes, five acids or esters, and two terpenoids. the most abundant VOC were: isobutric acid; buulnesene, a sesquiterpene; an unidentifed terpene.” SEE Can J Microbiol 2009 Feb;55(2).203=6

    Well, now we have what Sesquiterpene Lactones do to livestock as is found in the Cornell University Department of Animal Science http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/toxicagents/sesqlactone/sesqlactone.html

    “The sesquiterpene lactones are highly irritating to the nose, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract. Sheep and goats are the main livestock species affected, primarily because the plants are unpalatable and rarely consumed in toxic quantities by cattle and horses. Sneezeweed poisoning is often referred to as “spewing sickness” because of the characteristic vomiting seen. Affected sheep may have a green stain around the mouth and stand with upturned heads attempting to retain the regurgitated plant material. Vomited material is often inhaled into the lungs, causing either death from inhalation pneumonia or permanent lung damage accompanied by chronic coughing. Primary lesions are gastrointestinal tract irritation, congestion of the liver and kidney, and pulmonary damage.”

    For five years Muscodor albus was the “active ingredient” in the bio-control product Andante and used on: Caneberries (soil fumigation) , Blackberries (soil fumigation) , Loganberries (soil fumigation) , Raspberries (soil fumigation) , Blueberries (soil fumigation) , Cranberries (soil fumigation) , Currants (soil fumigation) , Gooseberries (soil fumigation) , Grapes (soil fumigation) , Huckleberries (soil fumigation) , Strawberries (transplant bed) , Strawberries (soil fumigation) , Citrus (soil fumigation) , Grapefruit (soil fumigation) , Lemons (soil fumigation) , Oranges (soil fumigation) , Tangelos (soil fumigation) , Tangerines (soil fumigation) , Nut trees (soil fumigation) , Almonds (soil fumigation) , Cashews (soil fumigation) , Filberts (soil fumigation) , Hickory nuts (soil fumigation) , Pecans (soil fumigation) , Walnuts (soil fumigation) , Pistachio nuts (soil fumigation) , Brazil nut (soil fumigation) , Apples (soil fumigation) , Pears (soil fumigation) , Quinces (soil fumigation) , Stone fruits (soil fumigation) , Apricots (soil fumigation) , Cherries (soil fumigation) , Nectarines (soil fumigation) , Peaches (soil fumigation) , Plums (soil fumigation) , Prunes (soil fumigation) , Mangos (soil fumigation) , Papayas (soil fumigation) , Pineapple (soil fumigation) , Ginger (soil fumigation) , Cucurbits (soil fumigation) , Melons (soil fumigation) , Cantaloupes (soil fumigation) , Muskmelons (soil fumigation) , Watermelon (soil fumigation) , Cucumbers (soil fumigation) , Squash (soil fumigation) , Eggplant (soil fumigation) , Peppers (soil fumigation) , Tomatoes (soil fumigation) , Leafy vegetables (soil fumigation) , Cole crops (soil fumigation) , Broccoli (soil fumigation) , Brussels sprouts (soil fumigation) , Cabbage (soil fumigation) , Cauliflower (soil fumigation) , Collards (soil fumigation) , Kale (soil fumigation) , Kohlrabi (soil fumigation) , Lettuce (soil fumigation) , Mustard (greens) (soil fumigation) , Spinach (soil fumigation) , Root crop vegetables (soil fumigation) , Carrots (soil fumigation) , Garlic (soil fumigation) , Onions (soil fumigation) , Potatoes (soil fumigation) , Radishes (soil fumigation) , Sweet potatoes (soil fumigation) , Beans (dry) (soil fumigation) , Beans (lima) (soil fumigation) , Beans (snap) (soil fumigation) , Garbanzo peas (chick peas) (soil fumigation) , Lentils (soil fumigation) , Okra (soil fumigation) , Ginseng (plant bed) , Avocados (soil fumigation) , Beans (soil fumigation) , Beets (soil fumigation) , Celery (soil fumigation) , Horseradish (soil fumigation) , Peas (soil fumigation) , Turnips (soil fumigation) , Soybeans (soil fumigation) , Vegetable crops (transplant beds) (soil fumigation) , Vegetable seed beds (soil fumigation) , Legumes (soil fumigation) , Fruit trees (soil fumigation) , Vine fruits (soil fumigation) , Conifers (forest) (seed bed) , Forest nurseries (soil fumigation) , Ornamental flowering plants (soil fumigation) , Ornamental plants (soil fumigation) , Ornamental woody shrubs (soil fumigation) , Ornamental trees (soil fumigation), Berry plantings (soil fumigation)
    ( http://pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Product.jsp?REG_NR=06959200017&DIST_NR=069592)

    There are two (2) additional bio-control products that I have not listed; Arabesque (http://pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Product.jsp?REG_NR=06959200015&DIST_NR=069592), and Glissade ( http://pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Product.jsp?REG_NR=06959200018&DIST_NR=069592 )

    There is also QST 20799 technical what was for manufacturing and formulating use only. ( http://pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Product.jsp?REG_NR=06959200014&DIST_NR=069592 ) So the employees of Agraquest were the ones who were exposed to this; as USDA puts it, “volatiles produced by the fungus pose a significant human health hazard”.

    Link to this
  36. 36. schroederc 2:55 pm 09/28/2012

    I find the article poorly written and researched. It seems full of opinion, when there is no evidence. In my view, the consumption of organic foods is a type of risk management that people exercise, especially when science does not fully clarify the issue. You have to eat, but there are choices in what to eat, and as long as there is choice, people will make their choices based on their own risk assessment, however, they define it. Nothing wrong with that.

    Link to this
  37. 37. IslandGardener 4:03 pm 10/1/2012

    Two comments.

    Many people choose organic produce not for the sake of their own health but for the sake of the wider environment, and so we take the precautionary approach that we’d rather not be complicit in putting persistent pesticides into ecosystems.

    Most organic farmers and growers don’t rely on pesticides at all, even ‘organic’ ones. They rely on crop diversity, crop rotation, good healthy soil, and good husbandry to reduce pests and diseases so that they aren’t tempted to use pesticides.

    So I conclude that the article may have a good point about the kinds of farmers who have jumped on the organic bandwagon to make money, and haven’t really changed their farming practices except by switching from one type of pesticide to another.
    But farmers and growers who grow organically because they care about the environment are people who take care of the soil, water and wildlife altogether. Choosing a responsible farmer or grower (or growing food for yourself as sustainably as you can) is the crucial thing – in that respect I agree with the article – as long as we’re informed enough to choose…

    Link to this
  38. 38. noilding 6:58 am 10/2/2012

    I find it perplexing that the pro-organic mad people on this site decry this article for being un-scientific and then go on to say, “even though there is little to back up my understanding of organic food safety when it comes to pesticides, I’m going to choose to eat it because I perceive it to be safer.”

    I get the healthier for the environment thing and the concept of organic farming (lower fuel costs, less co2 production, etc, etc). I’m not against it. I just think some of the responses on here are ridiculous.

    Good article. Good food for thought.

    Link to this
  39. 39. dmforman 10:20 am 10/3/2012

    I wonder if the author has done research on the seeds used by Monsanto that contain pesticides in them. There is no way that my family will eat GMO foods. We prefer to eat locally and organically, getting to know the people we purchase our foods from.

    Pesticides are not healthy for us and it doesn’t matter if it’s organic or not organic pesticides that are used.

    Link to this
  40. 40. Runuma 1:50 pm 10/12/2012

    I tend to think of raising crops as similar to human health. You can aim for prevention, or cure.

    Presumably we have the origins of our various crops because they thrived well in an unmanaged environment. We bred them to select for beneficial traits, but many crops did quite well with more natural but labor-intensive farming methods.

    It may be that what we’re doing is substituting quality for speed. Which may be a reasonable trade off. But just as chemotherapy doesn’t cure all cancer and carries it’s own risks over prevention, what is actually happening in the soil when we use chemical means rather than human management to protect and grow crops?

    There is an entire ecosystem in the soil, and just as antibiotics kill off beneficial as well as harmful bacteria, pesticides do kill off populations of beneficial insects, fungicides of helpful organisms that convert and increase uptake of nutrients as they are required. Big Ag finally understood this, rather than dumping more and more chemicals to enhance growth, they’re finally reintroducing species that help the plants make better use of the inputs applied.

    But just like probiotics only replace a small portion of normal flora, we don’t really have a complete understanding of the interplay between plant, soil, and the organisms within.

    We do know, however, that said organisms are vital to the health of the plant, and can and do increase nutrition, flavor, and plant vigor.

    This may be less a comparison of different types of chemical modifications and more about the prevention of healthy soil, companion planting, and removing as many chemical inputs as makes sense, and more careful use of what is applied. Certainly this is an area that is currently being widely studied.

    Link to this

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