Pop quiz: Are organic foods produced with pesticides?
If you said yes, you are right – sometimes.
If you said no, you’re not alone. The definition of “organic” has vexed many since its introduction into the mainstream food cycle, and food and agriculture experts still have a hard time deciding its definition.
To be certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as organic, a food must not just be born organically, but be produced and processed in a way that keeps it free from genetically-modified organisms (GMO’s) and irradiation. Therefore, “organic pesticide” could include everything from introducing grasshoppers or cayenne pepper, to buying an industrial grade organic pesticide from the store that looks a lot like a conventional one.
The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) offers the following wisdom:
- No matter how natural, all pesticides should be used with care.
- Always follow the label instructions, and take steps to minimize exposure to people, animals, and the environment.
- Plant oils can be harmful to the eyes, and people may be allergic to them.
- Metallic substances like zinc and sulfur can contaminate surface water and damage your equipment if not used properly.
- Your risk depends on the toxicity of the substance, and the amount of exposure.
What does that mean? It means that a pesticide is always a pesticide – meaning a substance intended to destroy a living thing (see the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA] more eloquent definition here).
We must stay grounded in our search for healthy industry. Products stamped with the organic seal evoke trust in that product’s quality and safety: as it should, and as it is meant to. However, associating something with nature doesn’t make it inherently safe for humans. The artificial substances in non-organic products are almost always derived from or mimicking natural substances – mostly those found in plants – because nature has spent a long time perfecting its recipe.
If you’ve ever scratched yourself silly from poison oak, you may agree that natural tree oils aren’t always so friendly. Lead, a heavy metal, is a naturally occurring element that we don’t want anywhere near our drinking water. As we consider the safety of natural pesticides, we cannot assume that organic = natural = safe.
We all eat, therefore we all have a role in what happens on our nation’s farms. At AFOP Health & Safety we educate those most vulnerable, our farmworkers, on pesticide safety so that they can make decisions to keep themselves safer. Organic or not, stay informed about the pesticides used near you, and ALWAYS follow directions and safety precautions.