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Study Finds Organic Food Is Safer for Children
(from March 6, 2003)

Children who eat a diet of organic food show a level of pesticides in their body that is six times lower than children who eat a diet of conventionally produced food, according to a new study published in the March 2003 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The study, Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure of Urban and Suburban Preschool Children with Organic and Conventional Diets, written by University of Washington researchers Cynthia Curl, Richard Fenske and Kal Elgethun, used biological monitoring to examine the effects of food eaten by preschool children in the Seattle, Washington area. Eighteen of the children examined were fed organic diets, and 21 were fed conventional diets. A diet was considered organic based on food labels. Parents kept a diary of their child's diet for three days, after which 24-hour urine samples were taken to look for metabolites of organophosphate (OP) pesticides. Significantly higher concentrations of OP metabolites (dimethyl alkylphosphate metabolites) were found in the children with conventional diets. According to the authors, "The dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children's exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk."

Studies in animals show that even a single, low-level exposure to certain OP pesticides during particular times of early brain development can cause permanent changes in brain chemistry, as well as changes in behavior, such as hyperactivity. This may mean that early childhood exposure to such chemicals can lead to lasting effects on learning, attention, and behavior, just like the environmental neurotoxin lead.

The researchers state, "Our finding that children who consume primarily organic produce exhibit lower pesticide metabolite levels in their urine than children who consume conventional produce is consistent with known agricultural practice, because organic foods are grown without pesticides. Consumption of organic produce appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children's exposure to OP pesticides."

For more information, see Beyond Pesticides' Organic Food program page. To decrease exposure to pesticides from your food, look for the USDA Organic label that says "100% organic" when you are food shopping. Read about Beyond Pesticides' explanation of the label here.

The study, Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure of Urban and Suburban Preschool Children with Organic and Conventional Diets, can be found in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 111, Number 3, March 2003.