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Organic Food

Eating with a Conscience
to protect health and the environment

Methodology

This first version of the Eating with a Conscience guide, launched June 2010, included the 15 crops that have been identified widely in the media as “clean," and mislead consumers to believe that buying organic versions of these foods is unnecessary or even a waste of money. While this approach alerts consumers to hazardous residues on food, those very same “clean” food commodities can be grown with hazardous pesticides that get into waterways and groundwater, contaminate nearby communities, poison farmworkers, and kill wildlife. In September 2010, the list was expanded to include 43 of the most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, according to USDA's Pesticide Data Program; in June 2013, the list was expanded to 80 crops including grains, nuts, and herbs.

The data behind Eating with a Conscience is based on pesticide tolerances (residue limits for pesticides used in the U.S. or by countries exporting to the U.S.) and taken from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Tolerances by Commodity, Crop Group, or Crop Subgroup Index, last updated July 2009. Each pesticide with an established tolerance for a particular crop was evaluated for its potential impacts in five categories: Farmer/Worker Acute Poison, Farmer/Worker Chronic Poison, Stream Contaminant, Ground Water Contaminant, Wildlife Poison, and Long-Range Transport.

Eating with a Conscience links to information on individual pesticides in our Pesticide Gateway, a database that provides decision and policy makers, practitioners and activists with easier access to current and historical information on pesticide hazards and safe pest management, drawing on and linking to numerous sources and organizations that include information related to pesticide science, policy and activism.

1. Farmer/Worker Acute Poison: Any pesticide rated EPA Toxicity Class I (highly hazardous) and Class II (moderately hazardous) is considered acutely toxic. These pesticides create a hazardous work environment for people who work and/or live on or near farms. This data was primarily taken from EPA Reregistration Eligibility Documents (REDs), and Registration Review documents. Other sources include the Extoxnet Pesticide Information Profiles, Cornell University Pesticide Information, and PAN Pesticide Information database. See additional information on improving conditions for farmworkers.

2. Farmer/Worker Chronic Poison: Any pesticide shown to be a carcinogen, kidney/liver, reproductive or developmental toxicant, nervous or immune system, or endocrine disruptor is considered to be a chronic poison. Exposure to these pesticides is linked to long-term health effects for people who work and/or live on or near farms. This data was primarily taken from EPA Reregistration Eligibility Documents (REDs), Registration Review documents, and tolerance assessments (Regulations.gov). Other sources include the European Commission Endocrine Disruptors report (Categories 1 and 2), Our Stolen Future Endocrine Disruptors list, Extoxnet Pesticide Information Profiles, Cornell University Pesticide Information, and PAN Pesticide Information database. See additional information on improving conditions for farmworkers.

3. Stream Contaminant: In its Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992–2001 report, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) identifies pesticides detected in more than 10% of all streams sampled as "detected most frequently." Using USGS Pesticide National Synthesis Project data, we determined which pesticides were detected in greater than 10% of all sampled streams (agriculture or mixed, unless noted) or cited as a contaminant in EPA registration documents.

4. Ground Water Contaminant: In its Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992–2001 report, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) identifies pesticides detected in more than 2% of all ground water sampled as "detected most frequently." Using USGS Pesticide National Synthesis Project data, we determined which pesticides were detected in greater than 2% of all sampled ground water (agriculture or mixed, unless noted) or cited as a contaminant in EPA registration documents.

5. Wildlife Poison: Pesticides identified by EPA to be toxic (moderately to highly toxic) to bees, birds, fish, aquatic organisms and other wildlife have established tolerances for this crop.This data was primarily taken from EPA Reregistration Eligibility Documents (REDs), Registration Review documents, and tolerance assessments (Regulations.gov). Other sources include the Extoxnet Pesticide Information Profiles, Cornell University Pesticide Information, and PAN Pesticide Information database.

6. Long-Range Transport: Pesticides identified as long range transporters with certain chemical properties are able to travel great distances by air, water and through the food chain. They contaminate communities and ecosystems hundreds to thousands of miles from their application site. The following sources identify pesticides capable of long range transport: the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) 2009 Human Health Report, Hageman, et al. 2006, and Thurman, E.M. and A.E. Cromwell. 2000.Eating with a conscience.

7. Pollinator Impacts: Foraging and pollination information was sourced from a variety of sources, specifically, “Crop Pollination by Bees” by Delaplane and Mayer (2000), for data on crop-specific pollination while “The Value of Honey Bees as Pollinators of U.S. Crops in 2000” by Morse and Calderone (Cornell University, 2000), provided the proportional dependence of each crop on pollinators. Other sources include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s STAT page.