The greatest benefits of organic agriculture are to the consumers as organic produce means less pesticides and fewer contaminants in our food. Even at low levels these contaminants can play havoc with the body and despite all the assurances from government and industry they still have little idea as to the real consequences of a pesticide addicted agricultural industry.
The overuse of cadmium contaminated superphosphate has led to an increasing exposure of the public to this heavy metal. Cadmium blocks the uptake of essential minerals by the body. Chemically, cadmium is very similar to zinc, so it behaves in a similar way, including blocking zinc an essential trace mineral in the body. In fact, one cadmium molecule antagonises about 100 zinc molecules, so a very small amount of this metal can cause big problems. It also out-competes selenium and magnesium in the body. This problem is further exacerbated by the nutrient depleted soils in which non organic crops are grown, with many foods already being deficient in essential trace elements. The highest cadmium concentrations are consistently reported in infant foods. It’s also significantly higher in Chinese peanuts, (a good reason to buy Australian peanuts).
Although farmers can no longer use the persistent organochlorine chemicals such as DDT and Dieldrin, they have at their disposal a large battery of highly toxic chemicals. Little or no training is required to use these chemicals, which are then applied to food crops without proper appreciation of their toxicity. Carrots for example, may have thirty one, separate, active ingredients (pesticides) applied to them: sixty five may be applied to broccoli, eighty five to wheat and one hundred and one to apples. These are only the active pesticide ingredients without even considering the other chemicals in the mixture, or the different brand names for the active ingredients and how much is applied or how frequently. While the residues in our foods are generally low, they are there. Most of the research in developed countries, including Australia, shows detectable levels of pesticides in between 30-40 percent of the crops monitored. We should be aware that these are only the chemicals they are looking for. When it comes to the byproducts the testing authorities are not sure of what they should be looking for, or how to monitor them.
Despite the claims by government and the chemical industry that this isn't a problem, the research is showing that the consumption of conventional food increases levels of a number of pesticides in the body by between six and ten times, in comparison to those people consuming organic produce. In one study children who were eating conventional produce showed levels of DMTP (Dimethylthiophosphate, a metabolite of organophosphate pesticides) nine times higher than those who ate organic produce. But what is most disturbing is that the levels were often twice as high in children as compared to adults.
In March of last year (2005), the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) reiterated again that children are more vulnerable to gene-damaging chemicals than are adults. Kids are not simply smaller versions of adults. Unfortunately, this is how they're seen when it comes to developing regulations and safety standards. For the first time, the US EPA has tried to put a figure on how much more susceptible children are. They reported children two years old and younger might be 10 times more vulnerable than adults to certain chemicals and that children between the ages of two and 16 might be three times more vulnerable to certain chemicals. This means we need to make a huge shift in the way we regulate these chemicals and may also mean that in some cases, the chemicals kids are exposed to at home may be up to 10 times too high in concentration. There is added concern when we know that kids usually have the highest exposure to chemicals as well.
Other research is now also showing that the adverse effects of these chemicals are much greater than those put forward by the authorities, including increased frequency of cancer and chronic diseases. Particularly as we learn about the eostrogenic effects of many of these chemicals and with the latest research the epigenetic effects. The epigenetic effects are changes that are passed on through generations but don’t alter the genetic material. We did not even know about these till very recent so we now need to retest all those so-called safe chemicals. Related to this the recent findings of popular organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos lowering the testosterone levels in males along with fertility levels.
Unfortunately, not all the old persistent pesticides have been removed, Mercury, another heavy metal, despite its well known toxicity is used as a fungicide. Just one mercury molecule antagonises 1000 molecules of zinc and out-competes selenium and iron in the. It blocks many important enzymes and is able to pass through the blood brain barrier and cause damage to the central nervous system and the brain particularly in newborns. It is also a chemical that caused birth defects.
On the other side of the equation organic food tends to have higher levels of nutrients such as minerals and antioxidants. In a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study organic ketchup had three times as much lycopene as some commercial brands. The USDA group tested 13 commercial ketchups six popular national brands, three organic, two store brands and two from fast-food chains. They found that the organic brands were the most abundant in lycopene.
The message is eat organic. It has lower levels of pesticides and other contaminants and higher levels of nutrients to balance out all the other exposures we have in the twenty first century.