I do not know of a study that has directly tested health outcomes in humans who consume conventionally grown produce compared to organically grown produce. However, there are studies showing harmful effects of pesticides on the neurological and reproductive development in animals. There are also studies that measure and rank the amount of pesticide residue found in conventionally grown versus organically grown produce.
The certified organic seal does not guarantee low pesticide levels or safety but it does insure that farmers have followed stringent guidelines to grow and handle their produce. In general, organic farming emphasizes environmentally-friendly practices, including avoidance of chemicals typically used to spur growth, kill pests, or reduce risk of infection. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a website that thoroughly explains the National Organic Program. If you are wondering what package seals and terms means, then see this guide.
I believe in the premise of organic farming. However, I am also aware that most of us need to budget for food and that even conventionally grown produce is hard for many to afford in the amounts recommended for adults (2½ cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit daily for a diet containing 2000 calories).
For foods that you consume daily or regularly, you might want to consider going organic for those that contain high pesticide levels when grown conventionally.
Environmental Working Group
I find the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” particularly helpful in choosing which fruits and vegetables to buy organic. According to the EWG, produce highest in pesticides when grown conventionally include peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes, carrots, and pears. Produce lowest in pesticides when grown conventionally are onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mangoes, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant, papaya, watermelon, broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
One way to buy organic more affordably is to seek out produce at farmers markets and farm stands. By buying directly from the farmer, you cut out the distribution cost – this saves some money as well as lowers the carbon footprint. As well, buying locally grown produce means you are eating seasonally – so you get super fresh, high quality produce that is likely to be higher in nutrients than produce that is trucked or flown long distances. Of course, another benefit of buying locally is that you support local business, which in turn, pays local taxes that serve to support services in the area in which you live.
I can’t guarantee that produce sold at your local farmers market will beat organic pricing at Walmart or Whole Foods. However, if you are buying directly from a local farmer, then there is a good chance that their price will match or beat the price of organics sold at your local supermarket.
More Resources on Buying Organic
Local Harvest: Community Supported Agriculture
Cooking Light video: “Editor’s guide to organics.”
CNNHealth: “How to buy the best organic foods.”
BusinessWeek: “Does it pay to buy organic?”
Consumer Reports: “Go organic”
Mayo Clinic: “Organic baby food: is it worth the price?”
Please feel free to post resources or comments about organic produce – I would love to hear from you.
Katherine Isacks, Registered Dietitian, LLC www.isacksrd.com