Should You Panic If It's Not Organic?

It's not like you hit the grocery store thinking: mmm, what kind of yummy pesticides do I want on my produce today? If you're like me, you might actually prefer to fill your cart with wholesome, natural, organic fruits and vegetables. You want those fruits and veggies to be ripe, unwilted, locally grown, in-season, not full of bugs and worms, untainted by salmonella or e coli, and reasonably priced. Oh, and you'd like Alice Waters or Jamie Oliver to stop by your house and cook it all up for you, while you have a cocktail or two with your bff's Rachel Maddow, Ricky Gervais, Ellen Degeneris, John Stewart, Emma Thompson, George Clooney, and Michelle Obama.

Make Mine a Double, Willya Crabby? Been a Tough Week.

Okay, I'll admit, we're talking pure fantasy... that part about the reasonably priced organic produce.

So let's say, hypothetically, that there may be a few fruits and vegetables that have made their way into your kitchen that are not organic. Even worse, what if some of these items appear on the Environmental Working Group's dreaded list of most pesticide-laden produce, dubbed "The Dirty Dozen?"

How big a deal is it?  Well, I was just alerted to a study that may have some relevance.

Pesticide Researchers say: Screw Organic, the Regular Stuff is Just Fine!

A study of dietary exposure to pesticide residue in the Journal of Toxicology took aim at the EWG's Dirty Dozen list, criticizing their methodology and disputing their findings.

The researchers concluded that:

(1) Exposures to the pesticides on the "Dirty Dozen" list posed negligible risks to consumers; (2) eating organic versions of the "Dirty Dozen" didn't appreciably reduce risk; and (3) the methodology used by the EWG lacked scientific credibility.

For example, the study said that exposure to the pesticides on apples, which were number one on the 2011 Dirty Dozen list, were "well below levels of toxicological concern, with relative exposures between 20,000 and 28 million times lower than levels that do not harm laboratory animals." Even better, for 3 others of the tainted twelve, blueberries, cherries, and kale – the pesticide exposure was over 30 million times lower than those that cause no observable adverse effects in lab animals. (Bell peppers, on the other hand, were the worst at 49.5 times lower).

But Wait Crabby, Where Did You Find This Study?

Why in an email sent from the completely unbiased source, the "Let's Convince Folks That Processed Food and Agribusiness are Totally Awesome So We Can All Make A Crapload of Money Council" the International Food Information Council! How do we know we can trust them? Well, another conveniently highlighted newsletter article was entitled: "Is Industry Funded Research Trustworthy?" And while the article doesn't actually ever answer that question, by mentioning it in an article title you can be reassured that they're all over it! So no worries.

Shouldn't I Trust The Environmental Working Group More than Food Industry Apologists?

Hell, I don't know; they both have their own axes to grind. The EWG are the same folks who think the sunscreen my dermatologist urges me to use will poison me, and listening to them is always depressing. I'd prefer they be wrong, so I can go about my business like ordinary Americans, cheerfully oblivious to all the environmental dangers that may surround me.

Problem is, I'm not an scientist, so when advocacy agendas clash and both sides cite scientific research, I need actual experts to weigh in. Anyone got one handy? There were things about the Toxicology Journal article that sounded vaguely suspicious to me, like using a "probabilistic modeling approach to estimate exposures." Or this sentence: "Residue findings considered as nondetections were assigned a value of zero...rather than using the much more conservative approach of considering nondetectable residues as being to one-half of the detection limits." But again--what the heck do I know?

So Are You Going To Start Buying A Lot More Produce That's Treated with Pesticides?

No way! Not only because I don't want ANY pesticides if I can avoid them, but because I want to support the stores and suppliers that don't use them. Perhaps if there was more of a market, prices would go down! But I think when organic isn't available, and I'm contemplating a tasty looking carton of fresh ripe conventionally grown blueberries, they have a much better chance of ending up in my grocery cart after reading the above toxicology study, even if I don't entirely understand it.

What about you guys--do you try to buy organic when you can? Or the heck with that, who would you invite to your celebrity BFF cocktail party?

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