It's no wonder most of us are confused about the safety of pesticides; even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, pesticide manufacturers continue to insist that pesticides are safe. The government requires—and manufacturers conduct—studies of individual chemicals in high doses, looking for immediate and obvious toxic effects. Unfortunately, our bodies store toxins, and the effects are not immediately detectable. Biomonitoring studies by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found measurable amounts of multiple pesticide residue in most of the US population (www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/). The cumulative health risks of exposure to these multiple toxic chemicals are unknown. The effects on children, whose developing bodies are especially prone to severe and permanent damage, are completely unstudied. However, we know that exposure to toxins in infancy and early childhood has subtle, but irreversible adverse effects on the nervous system, brain, reproductive organs and the endocrine (hormonal) system.
We are all left to fend for ourselves when it comes to this important and complex subject. As always, I urge you to do your due diligence and educate yourself. Trusting just one or two sources of information is never a good idea. I am restraining myself from providing a list of links that skew towards my take on the situation. (Those of you who know me personally will appreciate what a herculean effort that is.)
These days, food in general—never mind organic food—is becoming less and less affordable. So, where do you put your organic dollars? Keep in mind that foods with the highest concentrations of toxins are usually at the top of the food chain. So—excluding, erm, humans—meat, poultry and dairy products are most likely to be heavily polluted. Frequently, though not exclusively, imported produce can exceed even the FDA's lax standards as farmers in tropical and semi-tropical climates often face tough pest management challenges. The FDA is only able to test one percent of the produce imported into the US, but considering current funding, it's amazing that they can even do that much. As a guide, I love to use the EWG's best to worst list of the most popular produce.
Your best bet may be right under your nose. The farmers markets are full of clean, inexpensive, sustainably grown produce. If you are in New York City, you are in luck! Starting in April, I will be conducting monthly Union Square Greenmarket tours which will introduce you to all of the best and safest farms. So sign up for my newsletter and stay tuned.