Organic vegetables are grown and processed using methods that protect the environment and avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Congress set forth general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and delegated authority to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to define organic standards. These standards cover organic vegetables from farm to table, including soil and water quality and pest control.
This is the USDA organic seal. Through the National Organic Program (NOP), the USDA regulates all food products that make any organic claim on the label. The seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were not used.
Some highlights of the NOP regulations:
- Land must have three (3) years with no application of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or GMOs prior to harvest of the first certified organic crop, and buffer zones may be required around fields;
- Operations must implement an Organic System Plan – a detailed description of practices and procedures that address matters such as fertility, conservation, manure, weed, disease, and pest management practices; and soil management;
- Producers and distributors may use only natural and/or synthetic substances (soil enhancements, natural pest control, post-harvest handling) on the National List (proven necessary and not harmful);
- Organic seeds must be used when commercially available, and organic seedlings must be used for annual crops.
The USDA reports that in 2011, only about 0.8 percent of all U.S. cropland was certified organic, which means that the vast majority of vegetables consumed are conventionally-grown with the use of synthetic pesticides.
Why eat organic?
There remains some controversy about whether organic vegetables are more nutritious than those conventionally grown. An important meta-analysis published in 2014 looked at 343 underlying studies and reported that on average organic crops and crop-based foods contained higher concentrations of antioxidants (total flavonoids, total phenolic acids, phenolic acids, flavanones, stilbenes, flavones, flavonols, kaempferol, total anthocyanins and anthocyanins) than conventionally-grown foods. This study also noted significant differences in L-ascorbic acid, total carotenoids, and lutein. This analysis is referenced in the News section of this website.
A 2011 meta-analysis of the published comparisons of the content of secondary metabolites (chemicals like flavonoids and carotenoids) and vitamins in organically and conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables concluded that these compounds were 12% more numerous in organics than in conventionally-grown produce.
Direct effects on humans
There is no controversy about whether the consumption of organic food results in reduced pesticide exposure.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was tasked in the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 to protect us against pesticides. At Captiva Verde, we believe that the EPAs warnings that some pesticides affect the nervous system, and others may irritate the skin or eyes, be carcinogens, or affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body, fall short of the protections we deserve. We also believe that humans should stay as far from EPAs limits as humanly possible.
As the 2008-09 Presidents Panel on Cancer report stated, the entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals. Many of these chemicals are known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt our hormones, mimicking testosterone or estrogen. Nearly 1,400 pesticides registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for agricultural and nonagricultural uses have been linked to brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian cancers as well as Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins lymphoma and more.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned about exposure to pesticides. Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity, it wrote in 2012, and chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that conventionally-grown leafy greens are frequently contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the human nervous system. EWG recommends organic instead.
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) reports that conventionally-grown spinach contains the residues of fifty-four (54) pesticides.
The 2014 meta-analysis reported above under Nutrition also concluded that pesticide residues are four times higher in conventional crops, and that they contain significantly higher concentrations of cadmium, a toxic metal.
Indirect effects on humans and the environment
Pesticides are one of the contributors to the significant decline in pollinator populations worldwide – including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies. This has an economic effect as well as an effect on food production and the fundamental ecology of the planet.
Runoff of chemical pesticides and fertilizers into our waters propagates the negative effects of these toxins into the environment with far-reaching and unpredictable effects.