No, you didn’t read that wrong. Organic pesticides is not an oxymoron.
Though, most people might think so. According to a poll done in the UK back in 2005, 95% of organic consumers bought the produce to avoid pesticides.
But organic food is produced with pesticides too.
Supposedly, these special pesticides are derived from “natural” sources and are allowed for organic production. Obviously, anything “natural” must be ok; right? (Event though all “natural” and “synthetic” products actually originate in the periodic table…but that’s details…)
Not quite. Synthetic pesticides are heavily regulated and we know exactly when, how, where, and why to use them. Only licensed operators are allowed to purchase the products. Not to mention that over the last several decades, they’ve actually become a whole heck of a lot safer.
Meanwhile, organic pesticides are still the same old things being used from back in the 60s and 70s. They haven’t improved. They haven’t gotten any better. And, quite frankly, they aren’t altogether that great.
Take Spinosad for example. It “comes from the soil bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa. It can fatally scramble the nervous systems of insects. It’s also poisonous to mollusks.” (NPR) People have a problem with sticking Bt proteins into sweet corn genes because it makes a bug’s stomach “explode” (er…something like that), but apparently fatally scrambling the nervous system of an insect is perfectly acceptable if there is an organic label on the produce.
But, certainly, spraying an organic pesticide is better than spraying a conventional pesticide; right?!
Are naturally derived pesticides less toxic than synthetic ones? The answer depends a lot on the dosage, says Gillman. “To control fire blight on the same acre of land,” he explains, “I could use a tiny amount of a potent synthetic that has proved safe over the last 50 years, or a much larger amount of an organic pesticide.” (NPR)
Again, synthetic pesticides get tested, regulated, and tested some more. There is innovation and progress and science (calm down…I know that word scares a few folks). If something wasn’t safe, like if it causing health problems or tormenting the environment, we’re either going to pull it or adjust how we use it.
Here’s the kicker though — while a conventional farmer is strictly regulated on how much of any given pesticide can be applied to a particular field at a particular time (say, not right before harvest), organic farmers aren’t regulated at all when it comes to how often or when. There is no government entity overseeing the dosages or timing of organic pesticides.
According to the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, the top two organic fungicides, copper and sulfur, were used at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre in 1971. In contrast, the synthetic fungicides only required a rate of 1.6 lbs per acre, less than half the amount of the organic alternatives. (Scientific American)
Oops. Not only are organic farmers applying more of the pesticides they use onto the fields, they’re also toxic. I mean, after all, we’re trying to kill plants and insects with them. That’s the goal.
Not only are organic pesticides not safe, they might actually be worse than the ones used by the conventional agriculture industry. Canadian scientists pitted ‘reduced-risk’ organic and synthetic pesticides against each other in controlling a problematic pest, the soybean aphid. They found that not only were the synthetic pesticides more effective means of control, the organic pesticides were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other, non-target species like the aphid’s predators. (Scientific American)
Need another example? Take the Rotenone:
Rotenone was widely used in the US as an organic pesticide for decades. Because it is natural in origin, occurring in the roots and stems of a small number of subtropical plants, it was considered “safe” as well as “organic“. However, research has shown that rotenone is highly dangerous because it kills by attacking mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of all living cells. Research found that exposure to rotenone caused Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms in rats, and had the potential to kill many species, including humans. (Scientific American)
Despite being pulled in the US in 2005 due to health concerns, it was re-approved in 2010 for use in organic production. Go ahead organic farmers, spray away!
No doubt synthetic pesticides are serious business. Our guys are trained to use them, and rightfully so. We also have strict regulations on their use. The difference is that we’re constantly improving, moving forward, and finding better ways to use them. Our land is our living and we eat the same food as everyone else. We want to make an abundant supply of safe, healthy food, while at the same time protecting our soil, air, and water.
But the point is that people shouldn’t be tricked or fooled into crafty organic marketing. Organic food isn’t pesticide free. You’re more likely to find pesticide residue on organic food than you are conventional produce. These “natural” pesticides aren’t progressing and aren’t getting better. They’re outdated and, quite frankly, worse than currently used synthetic pesticides.
If you care about the environment, care about people, and want to eat nutritious healthy food, why are you still purchasing organic?