When walking through a grocery store, one often sees two types of food items organic and non organic. While one seems healthier than the other by name I have never seen a major difference between the two categories. After brief research, I discovered that the for a food to be labeled organic in the US the farmer is allowed to use certain synthetic pesticides and naturally derived pesticides in the making. However, studies have shown that these natural pesticides are actually not significantly less harmful than synthetic pesticides.
What chemical compounds make naturally derived pesticides and certain synthetic pesticides okay to be used on organic foods rather than synthetic ones used in conventional farming and what are the effects of each on the body?
Organic farming involves the making of foods without using most artificial methods such as synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic engineering, and chemical fertilizers. Although these regulations are in place for the United States, some synthetic fertilizers are still permitted for use in organic farming that are found on The National List from the USDA.
These restrictions on the making of organic foods explains the lower pesticide residue found on organic produce as opposed to conventional produce. Many people believe that organic foods hold more nutritional value than conventional foods based on their belief that use of synthetic pesticides results in a decrease in a plant’s ability to synthesize or incorporate nutrients. Worthington(2001) found that organic crops had more vitamin c, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus compared to conventional crops after reviewing many different studies.
However some other studies do not show any differences at all.
Some studies did show that organic methods lead to a higher amount of organic acids and polyphenolic compounds which have demonstrated health benefits serving as antioxidants for the body. When comparing the nutritional value of organic and conventional foods, the data is quite variable, so no conclusions can be drawn. Looking into naturally occurring toxins, organic foods can pose health risks due to them supposedly having a higher level of plant secondary metabolites. Conventional foods made through the use of synthetic pesticides may have lower levels of these toxins since the pesticides may minimize the amount of stress on the plant. Researchers discovered there could be microbiological hazards from organic foods because antimicrobial use is not allowed. Pesticide residues, polyphenolic compounds, nitrates, and naturally occuring toxins exhibit bad or good effects on the health with variability.
Pesticides are chemicals used to prevent or kill pests. Pesticides used today are mainly classified as either herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides based on the function of the pesticide. Herbicides are responsible for the destruction or controlling of weeds and other useless plants. Insecticides are used to kill insects are chemically classified as organochlorines, organophosphates, and two other groups. Finally, fungicides focus primarily on protecting crops from the many fungi that exist in nature. Health hazards from synthetic pesticides include birth defects, brittle bones, prostate cancer, cancer, neurological damage, miscarriages, and sterility. Proved in a study tracing organophosphates in children’s urine, organophosphate based pesticides are a possible factor in causing ADHD in children. Lots of research demonstrates conventional foods having higher amounts of pesticide residue compared to organic foods.
However the USDA states pesticide residue is found in such little amounts on food that it ultimately has no danger to people. Studies have shown no big differences between conventional and organic foods when examining nutrition content. Trade offs do exist between synthetic and natural pesticides used on crops. Recently, plant breeders have made plants that are more resistant to insects however they contain more natural toxins. Scientists have shifted more attention to testing synthetic pesticides for carcinogens because of the belief that natural pesticides do not produce as harmful effects. However, natural pesticides actually can be as or even more dangerous to the body as synthetic pesticides. An example of this is seen with a new potato cultivar. This potato has high levels solanine and chaconine, two natural toxins. Both of these toxins inhibit cholinesterase which cause them to actually block nerve transmission.
Despite the known effects of this potato cultivar from its natural toxins, solanine and chaconine have never been examined for carcinogenicity. On the other hand cholinesterase inhibitor malathion, a quite common synthetic organophosphate pesticide residue consumed, was tested and found not be a carcinogen. Trade-offs exist between cultivating naturally insect-resistant crops since they contain high levels of toxins and are not easily detoxified. Tomatine, a natural toxin in tomatoes, has a concentration in tomatoes that is closer to being very toxic for humans compared to synthetic pesticide residues. Organic farmers are legally allowed the use of naturally derived pesticides that have not been tested as thoroughly for carcinogenicity as have synthetically derived pesticides. So the assumption should not be made that natural pesticides are safer than synthetic ones as there is not enough research yet to confirm so.
Poisoning in agricultural settings is common from organic compounds in pesticides. Pesticides can cause lots of damage as they pose as a hazard to animals and humans with their chemical, synthetic nature. This occurs despite workers on the farm always wearing the right protection and preventing direct contact with the pesticides used at all costs. The pesticides still however greatly and detrimental harm many people from the poison. Organophosphates and carbamates, organic chemical compounds, inhibit cholinesterase. Cholinesterase is an enzyme that works to prevent intense stimulation through the destroying of acetylcholine which takes part in transmitting impulses in the nervous system. This leads to many harmful effects on the body such as muscle tremors, nausea, and convulsions. If bipyridylium compounds are consumed deadly effects can follow such as fatal lung cancer. All of these harmful effects of these pesticides are not present in all pesticides. This is only focusing on the most common poisonous ones that have lead to harm to many individuals.
According to a recent study by JAMA, women eating produce with pesticide residue while receiving infertility treatment were tied to higher rates of pregnancy loss and decreased their chance of pregnancy. The concern about the effects of pesticides on health has been expanding over the past years. Majority of Americans eat conventionally grown produce and by doing so are also exposed to pesticides on the daily. Women eating fruits and veggies without residues were found to be more quite more likely to have a successful pregnancy or to get pregnant. On the other hand women eating produce with residues were more likely to experience pregnancy loss or not get pregnant from the infertility treatment they were all receiving. Examples of produce with low pesticide residue are corn, onions, avocado, and prunes.
Produce with high pesticide residue includes peppers, plums, spinach, peaches, and strawberries. The research about infertility and pesticides is a hypothesis study so it does not conclude a concrete link between the two variables. The study only found that pesticide residue could potentially have a link to pregnancy outcomes. Natural products have a vital role when it comes to the topic of making new products. 20% of conventional pesticides are natural products or naturally derived substances. With herbicides only 8% of them were found as natural products or naturally derived substances and for fungicides and insecticides that percentage was 30%. Successful products include triketone herbicides, neonicotinoid, strobilurin fungicides, spinosyn, and pyrethroid insecticides.
Use of triketone herbicides lead to bleaching on meristematic tissues and also increased phytoene levels like PDS inhibitors. Neonicotinoids act as agonists to nicotinic acetylcholine and they also demonstrate selective toxicity that is for insects over vertebrates. Spinosyn are the only group that includes modified natural products. Spinosad is a mixture of at least two major compounds (spinosyn A and spinosyn D). Spinosyns have made a large impact on insect control over the past years. Products containing compounds of spinosys are actually also approved for the use for organic farming. Pyrethroids function with a neurotoxic action. This action blocks voltage-gated sodium channels found in nerve axons. This then leads to convulsions, seizures, hyperexcitation, and then followed by death. The success in these products hints to us that in the future natural products will continue to play a major role in the discovery of strategies for synthetic pesticides.