While every experts in the field, Nutritionists, health coaches, and Functional Medicine doctors, are advocating Organic farming in well-rehearsed unison, it may not be the answer in our modern world, where money and greed reign masters.
Small farmers, it seems, do care for their land. It is, after all, their living, their choice, the fruit of their sweat and tears, and also their pride.
On the other hand, huge farms and shareholders-run companies, only care about profit. Some of the land they "manage" could be as big as hundred of acres, especially, in the US, where it takes an aeroplane to spray pesticides and make rain by releasing hydrogen (the nice stuff), sodium chloride or potassium chloride (the not so bad stuff), or even silver iodide (the not great stuff) in the sky. A process called "cloud seeding".¹
Considering that silver is one of the most toxic of heavy metal², especially to microorganisms and to fish (Cooper, CF. Jolly, WC. 1970), it represents no danger to humans, even though, it appears, little research has been done of the long-term effect, no matter that this was revealed nearly 50 years ago. The problem is the other organic compounds that are added to the soup of chemicals, which could potentially represent a danger to our health.
Ironically, we should be safe from artificial rain in the UK. Famers, on this side of the ocean, are dealing with the complete opposite: fungal and bacterial overgrowth occurring from constant dampness and years of mild weather. It is without any surprise that farmers on both side have to found a remedy to help increase crop yield, and live from the land.
It is estimated that their are about 900 different pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc. used in conventional farming, according to The Organic & Non-GMO Report, March 2017.³
An apple, for example, can be sprayed with dozens of chemicals.
To remove these, it takes a lot more than scrubbing the fruit on your t-shirt. You may, in fact, wipe visible dust and dirt but it seems peeling may be the only solution to the problem, as many chemicals are able to pass through the skin.
DEBUNKING – in fact, EXPOSING – FACTS ABOUT PESTICIDES USED IN ORGANIC FARMING With recent exposure to the media, pesticides are a growing concern.
It is with good reasons indeed, considering that we are exposed to residues of hundred of toxic compounds every single time we bite into an apple or another fruit or vegetable.
It is clear that today almost no food is 100% free of pesticides. What is not obvious, it that even organic produce may contain some residues and not only from cross-contamination from nearby fields.
"Most people assume that no pesticides are used in organic farming, but, in fact, a limited range of pesticides are permitted. However, it is important to note that organic farming takes a completely different approach to the use of pesticides compared to conventional farming. Most of the pesticides approved for use in organic agriculture are from natural origins, such as beeswax, plant oils and pheromones. Pesticides are also not routinely applied. Permission has to be sought for their use and will only be granted if it can be proven that all other alternatives have been unable to contain the problem. As a result they are used in much lower quantities. In the EU there are currently 491 approved active substances[ EU Pesticides Database] approved for use as pesticides, of these only 28 are approved for use in organic agriculture." Explains PAN U.K.
"In 2015, over 17,800 tonnes of pesticides were used on British farms to kill weeds, insects and control crop diseases. Many pesticides don’t just kill the target pest. They can affect other wildlife and the environment by either direct poisoning, contaminating water courses or disrupting ecosystems." echoes the Soil Association, adding: "Many people don’t realise almost 300 pesticides can be routinely used in non-organic farming and these are often present in non-organic food despite washing and cooking. [...] Organic farmers are permitted to use just 20 pesticides, derived from natural ingredients including citronella and clove oil, but only under very restricted circumstances."
This sounds great indeed.
Making us much safer from eating Organically grown fruits and vegetables but it could be any further from the real truth.
Out of the 900 (US) and 490 (EU) approved pesticides, which include, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc., 35 (not 20 as claimed by the Soil Association) may be used by Organic Farming (according to the Pesticide Action Network, 2017 and the Organic Soil Association, 2017). It is claimed that they are usually from natural sources; however, 3 are still acutely toxic, and include pyrethrins and copper.
There is no data available today about the trace level of the soup of chemicals sprayed on organic food; however, residues are found in about 60% of the total production of conventional farming.
It is claimed by these associations that if all farms were applying Organic farming, “the amount of pesticides being sprayed would decrease by 98%”.
A great move, but personally, not good enough, especially for the bees.
This is why I trust Biodynamic farming (Demeter certified).
These farms work in tune with nature, banning completely anything that could have an impact on the environment (and the bees), which includes herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides (and hormones, antibiotics, etc. for animals).
TO WASH OR NOT TO WASH (FRUITS AND VEGETABLES)?
Washing the fruits and vegetables we buy in stores is important to prevent food-borne illness and substantially reduce our exposure to pesticides.
It appears, however, that most people rinse their produce under cold, running water.
Although, this may not seem to be efficient enough, it does, in fact, help remove up to a dozen of known pesticides, according to Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Some people use bleach or bleach-based tablets, which, to me, kills the whole point.
Considering that there is chlorine (bleach) in out tap water, it is, in fact, proven to be as efficient as using plain tap water. Hotels and restaurants, and salad packs, used bleach too (dozens of time stronger than your local swimming pool).
Some people add salt to a bath (10 g per 100 ml), soaking the produce for a while.
Indeed, I soak my fruits and vegetables. A pure automatism. As soon as I get home, I take the fruits and vegetables out of their crates, and fill the sink with water. I pour about 100 ml of (any) vinegar and soak for 20 minutes, then rinse, and drain.
I have written "any" vinegar because to me it truly does not matter if I use Organic apple cider vinegar with mother, plain white wine vinegar, or a cheaper option.
The main compound of vinegar is alcohol, and alcohol is also known to kill pathogenic microbes, and surprisingly, evaporates rather quickly, leaving no trace or smell (or taste).
Research shows that it is, in fact, as effective as a salt solution.
I might change the way I clean my produce.
Recent studies revealed that one of our kitchen little helpers is again a lot more than what we are already thankful for. Sodium bicarbonate (baking powder) is shown to be effective in removing most pesticides on the surface of a fruit or vegetable.
It is not a miracle powder though. Sodium bicarbonate cannot wipe all of the pesticides that have crossed the skin. Peeling is the only way to remove all residues; however, it is again missing the point as bioactive compounds, such as vitamins and antioxidants, are found in the skin layer.⁵
My recommendation: dilute 1 tablespoon of sodium bicarbonate in half a sink filled with cold, fresh tap water. Place the vegetables, or fruits, and let them soak for a minimum of 15–20 minutes. Drain and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or kitchen paper. You can also use a salad spinner to spin-dry salad leaves, green leafy vegetables and other vegetables and fruits (Smooth skinned fruits, apples, nectarines, cherries, grapes, peas, etc.).
It may not be necessary to soak root vegetables, including potatoes and sweet potatoes, as it is not required to store them in the fridge. They will also be peeled. You can brush them clean, if they are delivered or sold with soil, and store them in a dark, cool place.
Mushrooms and berries should never be soaked. Simply rinse berries under cold, running water using a sieve, immediately before eating them, and scrub the mushrooms with a soft vegetable brush. Exposing mushrooms and berries to water, will increase moisture and accelerate spoilage and mould.
DO NOT PANIC. This should not be something that causes you stress.
Eating your 5-a-day (fresh fruits and vegetables) is one of the best things you can do for your health, so do not let this article and media sensation lines to scare you. This is not the point. It is to educate you so you can make conscious choices.
THE DIRTY DOZEN (most contaminated produce, buy DEMETER certified or Organic):
THE CLEAN FIFTEEN (the least contaminated produce):
A large body of evidence shows that exposure to pesticides contributes to an elevated rate of chronic diseases including:
These are very real risks for those exposed to pesticides. Many of the more severe cases often happen to agricultural workers who are exposed to pesticides on the job. It is, therefore, without surprise that there is a rebellion growing. Many law suits have been launched by workers exposed to mega doses daily, following the recrudescence of diseases and shorten lifespan.
Pregnant women and children should keep their exposure to chemical residues, including from pesticides, and should eat a diet made exclusively of Demeter certified or Organic produce.
Children are at higher risk for toxicity from pesticides and other residues than adults. This is because the developing brain is more susceptible to neurotoxins and the dose of pesticides per body weight is likely to be higher in children.
Children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of pesticides have been found to have lower IQs compared to children with the lowest levels of pesticide exposure⁶ and children exposed to pesticides are at an increased risk for a variety of chronic conditions, including learning and behavioural difficulties (including, ADHD).⁷
2 Cooper, CF. Jolly, WC. (1970). Ecological effects of silver iodide and other weather modification agents: A review. Water Resources Research. 6 (1), pp. 88–98.
5 Yang, T. Doherty, J. Bin Zhao, B. et al. (2017). Effectiveness of Commercial and Homemade Washing Agents in Removing Pesticide Residues on and in Apples. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 65 (44), pp. 9744–9752.
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This Blog offers an easy-to-read condensed descriptive of food groups, nutrients, and their role on our body; cooking processes; world news with major impact on food and consumers; comprehensive reviews of restaurants (Menus, Food-on-plate and Quality of Service); and easy-to-follow Exquisite recipes, as well as healthy snacks and juices.
Olivier is a Michelin trained chef, a registered Naturopath and Nutritional Therapist, embracing fully his passion for good food and healthy eating.