Quick chat on pesticides here!
Pesticides are substances added to crops to repel pests, such as insects, weeds, fungi, rodents, etc. And let’s be clear, pesticides have been in use for thousands of years- this isn’t a new concept! Pesticides are an effective way to control pests, and are utilized in both conventional AND organic farming.
The EPA sets regulations for pesticide use based on robust safety testing for tolerance levels, which are estimated EXTREMELY conservatively and reviewed regularly. The FDA and the USDA monitor food products for adherence to these levels. Foods found to be in violation of established levels are not sold.
The EPA collects data on how pesticides are metabolized and excreted, as well as acute effects, like irritation and neurotoxticity, and chronic effects, such as organ damage and carcinogenicity. Exposure is estimated using the USDA’s NHANES What We Eat in America survey, approximate levels in drinking water, and other possible exposures. The EPA will also consider buildup of exposures of similar types of pesticides in their data. Acceptable levels are set based on the type of crop as well as the type of pesticide.
A lot of research goes into finding pesticides that are not required in high amounts, that don’t damage the crop, and that are specific to the targeted pest. Use of pesticides has decreased significantly in terms of types and amounts needed over the past 20-30 years. Farmers do have to pay for pesticides- so why would they want to overpurchase them and then damage their crop yield by overspraying?
The dose makes the poison! For example, vitamin D3 is a pesticide used against rodents. While an essential micronutrient, it can be toxic at high doses for rodents, (and at much higher doses for humans).
There is a lot of fear mongering occurring in the media these days, but, but we can rest assured that the government agencies responsible for regulating pesticide use perform extensive research and testing to keep our food supply safe. Oh, and organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free.
-Katy Hair, RD, LDN, CPT
Reeves, WR, et. al. Assessing the Safety of Pesticides in Food: How Current Regulations Protect Human Health. American Society for Nutrition. 2019.