Organic Foods: Overrated or Underappreciated?

Posted on 18-02-2014 , by: Nancy Clark , in , , 3 Comments

Part I of a trilogy by guest blogger Ana Arena

  “Why buy organic? Is the extra 20 cents per pound really worth it?” Those are two hot button questions on the mind of consumers everywhere, including many health-conscious athletes who eat a lot of food and depend on their healthy bodies to reach their goals. They see their bodies as their sports car, and want to treat them accordingly. 

 This blog will be the first in a trilogy that investigates those questions. The second blog will explore the pros and cons of organics using the information that is available to us, and the third blog will discuss the role the food industry plays in all of this.

 Lately the U.S. government and scientists worldwide have spent a good deal of resources looking into why organics hold a place in our food habits. There is admittedly a very small amount of research on the toxicity of the chemicals that are found in commonplace pesticides, and ultimately in conventional produce. The USDA states that more research is needed to provide an understanding of the fate and effects of agrochemicals, beginning at the molecular level and extending to global health.

 Basically, we need to understand the relationship between pesticides and life-long health. The use of pesticides and human, animal, and pest illnesses appear to follow the same lines on a graph—both have increased over the past two decades. The bigger issue, perhaps, is that pesticides are no longer the only puzzle to solve. With the advent of Monsanto, it is now possible to purchase the seeds of “transgenic pesticidal plants.” Translation: genetically modified seeds that develop into inherently pest-fighting plants. These plants are also able to resist any damage incurred when they come in contact with herbicides that are sprayed to kill invading weeds (like using Roundup to rid your yard of poison ivy). The trouble is that current research suggests that these very plants may also prove resistant to common antibiotics. When humans eat these plants, will we be at higher risk for antibiotic resistance? Does that mean you, the consumer, will potentially be at a greater risk for an illness that cannot be treated?

You may be thinking that it is just as likely that pesticides are benign substances that have contributed greatly to an increased food supply over the past several decades. In all honesty, this could be the case. The greater issue is to spark the conversation and curiosity that will lead to legislative pressure and, ultimately, quantitative research.

A closing thought to leave you with: As the consumer, you drive the market. You are part of a collective society that is supplied only with the quality of commodities that it demands. If you can cause Wal-Mart to stop carrying hormone treated milk (which it did), and Mars to stop putting blue dye in their M&Ms (which they will be doing), imagine what other battles you are capable of winning. Vote with your dollars and settle for nothing short of high quality, nutrient rich food sources that support local farmers. We don’t want them to have to sell their farms for house lots!


Guest blogger and Simmons College student Ana Arena is majoring in nutrition with double-minors in biology and chemistry.


3 Comments found

  1. 847608 346065Several thanks for this specific information I was basically browsing all Search engines to discover it! 227580

  2. I would like to ask what do you think of the pesticides and herbicides used in organic agriculture? You don’t seem to touch on what is known and unknown about those products but insinuate that they are less of a health hazard (which often times they are not) and less damaging to the environment. But for more science-based information on pesticides that doesn’t require searching databases I recommend reading the blog Applied Mythology (

    Additionally, I would please love citations on the issue of antibiotic resistance and GMOs. The best resource I have found that covers the issues is at Biofortified (

    • Here is Ana’s response…

      Thank you for your comment. There is truly a fundamental misunderstanding surrounding the word “toxic.” It’s often thrown around in casual conversation and everyday encounters, “Nontoxic makeup remover!,” “Cigarettes with lower toxicity!” When in reality less than 5% of all chemical compounds (everything from antifreeze to Kool-Aid) have a full toxicity chart (John Warner, Warner-Babcock Institute, 2014). I came across the Applied Mythology reading in my research, but unfortunately their assumptions are based on this fundamentally misunderstood concept of “toxic.” Additionally, the study conducted at Stanford dealt with the same issues noted by the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors (2013). Pardon the lofty quote, but I feel the whole concept is needed to make the point complete: “Measurement of the extent of human agrochemical exposure is critical to evaluation of work practices, handling and application technologies, personal protective equipment, clothing, and strategies to reduce or minimize human exposure. Available models for the estimation of human exposure rely almost exclusively upon environmental monitoring data and human passive dosimetry. Those data are woefully inadequate due to the number of default assumptions which must be invoked to estimate or index absorbed dosage for improved risk management and risk communication.”
      Additionally, only 3 of the studies in the meta analysis conducted by Stanford used a clinical trial setting.
      In terms of pesticides increasing antibiotic resistant in bacteria, the big trouble seems to be that the irrigated water that naturally flushes into the produce part of a farm contains a mixture of pesticides and antibiotics. It is important to note here that some pesticides contain antibiotics, and other antibiotics may be traveling from a livestock portion of a large farm. When bacteria are exposed to both, there appears to be a reaction that occurs that increases resistance to both the pesticides and the antibiotics. Pesticide resistance among both plants and the bacteria surrounding them is a known problem—especially for farmers, because they must rotate the types of pesticides they are using with some frequency. Here are few good sources discussing these issues. Unfortunately I’m not certain how much you will be able to see because they are from scholarly journals, but I hope you may get the gist.

      In terms of the GMOs, many issues are the same as stated above. The bigger danger, however, is that since some GMO plants are fabricated to be pesticide resistant (intentionally), it is thought that the same mechanism may also render them resistant to some antibiotics due to the similarity in the chemical formula.
      Overall the issue is that we simply don’t have the information to support whether pesticides are safe or unsafe. To get all of the toxicity information on one chemical, there needs to be a huge amount of research and testing done. A pesticide may be relatively nontoxic as a carcinogen, but a virulent neurotoxin or highly damaging to aquatic life. I encourage you to pressure your legislature to get more of this research in the works so we may reach some quantifiable conclusions!

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