(Beyond Pesticides, November 21, 2011) Two recent reports from the Organic Center can help consumers identify food choices that will reduce their intake of pesticides while enhancing the overall nutritional content of their diets. The reports, entitled Dietary Risk Index and Transforming Jane Doe’s Diet are based upon state-of-the-art pesticide residue and risk assessment research conducted by USDA and EPA. The reports establish that switching to organically produced and handled foods significantly reduces the amount of pesticides consumers will receive from their diet and that a few simple changes in behavior can drive such exposure to nearly zero.
Noting that extensive research has identified fresh fruits and vegetables as by far the greatest source of pesticide exposure and risk in our diets, the Dietary Risk Index (DRI) report focuses on the relative risk of choices within these food groups. The DRI calculates expected risk by weighing the toxicity of a specific pesticide with the amount of the substance to which consumers are likely to be exposed. This estimated risk is then measured against the EPA-established “level of concern”, the exposure level beyond which EPA can no longer assert a “reasonable certainty of no harm.” The DRI calculations for individual pesticides can then be combined to estimate the total dietary risks of a food by taking into account all of the residues found in that food. The Organic Center’s methodology is also capable of calculating the relative risk of eating organic fruit and vegetables exclusively compared to conventional produce, or consuming exclusively domestically raised produce compared to imported alternatives.
The DRI report determines that, in general, most pesticide dietary risk is caused by proverbial “hot potatoes”, or foods that sometimes contain relatively high residues of relatively toxic compounds. For example, the report cites residues of two pesticides — chlorpyrifos and dicofol — as driving the overall risk associated with domestically produced apples in 2009, despite a total of 51 different pesticides residues having been detected on the 724 samples collected that year. Significantly, the DRI report supports the Organic Center’s earlier conclusion that replacing conventional fresh and processed fruit and vegetable products with organic brands would reduce overall pesticide dietary risk by 97%.
The Transforming Jane Doe’s Diet (TJDD) report goes a step beyond calculating pesticide toxicity in the diet to include the intake of 27 essential nutrients. Working with a daily diet based on USDA My Plate recommendations, TJDD substituted organic and nutrient-dense options for conventionally produced and processed foods. For example, enriched white bread was replaced by whole wheat organic bread and fresh organic strawberries took the place of strawberry jam. By making these and other relatively simple changes, the report reported an increase of 79% increase in the measured nutrients and a reduction in pesticide toxicity using the DRI methodology of more than two-thirds.
“This is the first-ever analysis to offer recommendations on how to reduce pesticide risk level and increase the nutritional quality of an average person’s daily diet,” said Joan Boykin, Executive Director of the Organic Center. “We are particularly proud of this report and can only hope that it will further incentivize consumers to make the simple dietary changes that can improve their health, as well as the environment in which we live.”
Reducing dietary exposure to pesticide residues is just one of several powerful incentives for consumers to purchase organically produced and handled foods. Pesticides can have enormously detrimental effects on farmworkers who are exposed during application as well as non-target organisms impacted by contact with the toxic compounds. In fact, there are many hazardous pesticides that are not associated with food residues but do get into waterways and groundwater, contaminate nearby communities, poison farmworkers, and kill wildlife, while not all showing up at detectable levels on our food. For a comprehensive understanding of how your choice of organic fruits and vegetables impacts the environment as well as human health, please visit Beyond Pesticides Eating with A Conscience webpage.
Both of the Organic Center’s reports calculate dietary pesticide exposure using data from the Pesticide Data Program (PDP), which is USDA’s most comprehensive residue research initiative. First begun in 1991, the PDP was expanded significantly after passage of the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996 to gather the dietary exposure data necessary for an improved approach to calculating human health risks. Responding to press reports that the produce industry was seeking to suppress release of the 2010 PDP data, a group of leading pediatric health professionals wrote to USDA, EPA, and FDA urging that the results be promptly released. In their May 2011 letter, the pediatric health experts cited the elevated risk associated with pesticide residues on foods commonly consumed by infants and children including processed apples, berries and peaches and challenged the government to, among other measures, enhance efforts to promote organic fruits and vegetables as options for consumers. USDA currently estimates that the 2010 PDP data will not be released before January 2012.
Source: The Organic Center