When many of us think of organic farming, we wrongly assume organic crops are pesticide free.
When organic farming methods like weed-suppressive cover crops, crop rotation, and biological pest control methods are insufficient to prevent or control pests, organic farmers may apply pesticides.
Generally speaking, organic farmers use natural pesticides as opposed to the synthetic pesticides used by industrial factory farms. But organic pesticides are not necessarily safer, and some organic farmers may use synthetic pesticides.
According to the USDA National Organic Program, Subpart G, The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, limited use of synthetic pesticides are allowed for use on organic farms, and include insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils for insect management, and Bordeaux mixture, copper hydroxide and sodium bicarbonate for managing fungi.
In Jeff Gillman’s book The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, Gillman claims natural insecticides used on organic farms include Bacillus thuringiensis (a bacterial toxin), pyrethrum (a chrysanthemum extract), spinosad (a bacterial metabolite), neem (a tree extract) and rotenone (a legume root extract).
Like most conventional insecticides, rotenone and pyrethrum attack the nervous system, and rotenone has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease-like symptoms in rats.
Rotenone was allowed to be used to grow organic produce until 2005, when it was added to the list of prohibited substances, but Rotenone may have since been re-approved.
In February, HeathDay reported that a new study found people who used the pesticides rotenone and paraquat have a 2.5 times increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The study was published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Researchers compared 110 people with Parkinson’s disease and 358 people without the disease. All of the participants were enrolled in the Farming and Movement Evaluation Study involving licensed pesticide applicators and their spouses.
“Rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria, the structure responsible for making energy in the cell,” study co-author Freya Kamel, a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in an institute news release.
“Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures,” she added. “People who used these pesticides or others with a similar mechanism of action were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.”
Researchers concluded that pesticides may play a role in Parkinson’s disease in humans.
“The results may have far-reaching implications, considering the widespread use of these pesticides. Paraquat remains one of the most widely used herbicides worldwide, and rotenone was used ubiquitously before most uses were voluntarily stopped in the United States in 2007″.
We can only hope organic produce contains fewer pesticides than conventional produce, based on an organic farmer’s commitment to grow crops as free as possible of chemicals and pesticides.
To better ensure you’re eating fruits and vegetables with the least amount pesticides, buy from a local organic farm when possible, and ask them what organic farming methods and pesticides they use.