Just last year, the British government’s Food Standards Agency released a huge and widely quoted study review that concluded that organic food is no healthier than conventional food. Of course this sparked lots of controversy and fired up organic-farming advocates, who had to settle with saying things like, “Well, health and nutrition are not the only reasons people buy organic; it is definitely better for the environment.” This whole event irritated me. I mean, it just seems like common sense that eating pesticides—chemicals created to kill things—is probably not all that great for your health. But then along comes some fancy study basically telling us: Go ahead and eat industrially farmed veggies—who cares if they’re tasteless; they are shiny and huge, and they’re perfectly safe!
I stuck by my organic friends (and cucumbers and peaches and tomatoes). Call me a (food) snob, but I believe organic food is worth the extra money—and a few brown spots. Plus, I would argue that when something is cheaper, it’s usually cheap for a reason. In this case, the reason is some combination of chemical pesticides, genetic modification, additives, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Yum.
Well, it turns out pesticides do more than innocently kill a few bugs. According to a nationwide study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health—the results of which were just reported today—children exposed to pesticides known as organophosphates could have a higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers found those with higher levels of these pesticides in their urine were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD as those with undetectable levels. This study was based on data taken from the general U.S. population, which means exposure to the pesticides could be harmful even at levels commonly found in our kids’ environment. So it’s not like those mice who ate their weight in saccharin for a month and then got cancer.
These organophosphates were originally developed for chemical warfare and are known to be toxic to the nervous system. About 40 of these compounds are used in the U.S.—most as pesticides and insecticides for conventional (read: industrial) farming. The researchers did allow that a definite link cannot be established and this needs further study, but they did advise to wash your produce really well before eating it.
I think I’ll stick with my funny-looking, organophosphate-free organics, thank you very much.