Monday, August 15, 2011

"Organic" fanatics get a black eye

The great Satan against which "organic" farmers fight is PESTICIDES. And they never cease their criticism of conventional farming on the grounds that the products of conventional farming have dangerous quantities of pesticides in them.

A major organic advocacy organization is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), who regularly demonize common foods, claiming that consumption of them is "dirty".

A couple of food scientists (C. K. Winter and J. M. Katz) have however just taken EWG on and tested their claims. I reproduce below an excerpt from their recent report in the Journal of Toxicology. The report and the findings are crystal clear.

Probabilistic techniques were used to characterize dietary exposure of consumers to pesticides found in twelve commodities implicated as having the greatest potential for pesticide residue contamination by a United States-based environmental advocacy group. Estimates of exposures were derived for the ten most frequently detected pesticide residues on each of the twelve commodities based upon residue findings from the United States Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program.

All pesticide exposure estimates were well below established chronic reference doses (RfDs). Only one of the 120 exposure estimates exceeded 1% of the RfD (methamidophos on bell peppers at 2% of the RfD), and only seven exposure estimates (5.8 percent) exceeded 0.1% of the RfD. Three quarters of the pesticide/commodity combinations demonstrated exposure estimates below 0.01% of the RfD (corresponding to exposures one million times below chronic No Observable Adverse Effect Levels from animal toxicology studies), and 40.8% had exposure estimates below 0.001% of the RfD.

It is concluded that (1) exposures to the most commonly detected pesticides on the twelve commodities pose negligible risks to consumers, (2) substitution of organic forms of the twelve commodities for conventional forms does not result in any appreciable reduction of consumer risks, and (3) the methodology used by the environmental advocacy group to rank commodities with respect to pesticide risks lacks scientific credibility.

1. Introduction

Since 1995, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a United States-based environmental advocacy organization, has developed an annual list of fruits and vegetables, frequently referred to as the “Dirty Dozen,” suspected of having the greatest potential for contamination with residues of pesticides. The EWG cautions consumers to avoid conventional forms of these fruits and vegetables and recommends that consumers purchase organic forms of these commodities to reduce their exposure to pesticide residues.

The annual release of the report has traditionally generated newspaper, magazine, radio, and television coverage, and the report is considered to be quite influential in the produce purchasing decisions of millions of Americans.

In June 2010, the EWG released its most recent “Dirty Dozen” list [1]. Topping the list as the most contaminated commodity was celery, followed by peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale, potatoes, and grapes (imported). According to an EWG news release, “consumers can lower their pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding conventionally grown varieties of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables” [2].

It is unclear how the EWG could make such a statement since the methodology used to rank the various fruits and vegetables did not specifically quantify consumer exposure to pesticide residues in such foods. Instead, the methodology provided six separate indicators of contamination, including (1) percentage of samples tested with detectable residues, (2) percentage of samples with two or more pesticides detected, (3) average number of pesticides found on a single sample, (4) average amount of all pesticides found, (5) maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample, and (6) total number of pesticides found on the commodity [1]. Each of these indicators was normalized among the 49 most frequently consumed fruits and vegetables, and a total score was developed to form the basis for the rankings.

Since none of these indicators specifically considered exposure (the product of food consumption and residue levels), it is difficult to see how the EWG could substantiate the claim that consumers could lower their pesticide consumption by nearly four-fifths by avoiding conventional forms of the “Dirty Dozen” commodities.

Additionally, the toxicological significance of consumer exposure to pesticides in the diet is also not addressed through an appropriate comparison of exposure estimates with toxicological endpoints such as the reference dose (RfD) or the acceptable daily intake (ADI).

To more accurately assess the potential health impacts from consumer exposure to pesticide residues from the “Dirty Dozen” commodities, this study utilized a probabilistic modeling approach to estimate exposures. The exposure estimates were then compared with toxicological endpoints to determine the health significance of such exposures.

2. Materials and Methods

The EWG rankings were derived from the results of residue findings of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program (PDP) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Pesticide Program Residue Monitoring from 2000 to 2008 [1, 3, 4]. The PDP is more appropriate for risk assessment as it is not developed for enforcement, provides residue findings for produce in ready-to-eat forms (i.e., washed or peeled), includes many more samples than the FDA program, and relies upon more sensitive analytical methods. As a result, our study relied entirely upon results from the most recent PDP data collected from 2004 to 2008.

And Mischa Popoff is not popping off yet either

Mischa Popoff is what Australians would call a "fair dinkum" (genuine, sincere) organic farmer and he HATES all the fraud and dishonest propaganda in the industry. And he has done his best to expose it. So the Winter & Katz article above made his day. He sent the authors the following email to give them the background on the "organic" racket.
Dear Professor Winter and Mr. Katz:

You’re quite right that the Environmental Working Group’s 'Dirty Dozen' list has several major flaws. Your recent paper in the Journal of Toxicology is a real eye-opener.

Chief among EWG’s flaws is the fact that there is no routine field testing of organic crops under current organic certification standards. None. I guarantee you that everyone at EWG is fully aware of this deep flaw, and it draws into question whether the organic food EWG promotes is even really organic in the first place, which in turn undermines their whole argument before it even gets out of the gate. And yet, the media gleefully plays along promoting EWG’s list of alleged “dirty” foods.

So, instead of handling the whole organic movement with kid gloves – you know, pretending as so many do, in the interests of political correctness, that we support people’s “right to choose” and all that malarkey – I say it’s HIGH time to strike back and expose EWG! Did you know, for instance, that there are also no surprise inspections in the organic industry? Another huge flaw in EWG’s position. But, in the case EWG’s 'Dirty Dozen' list it’s the aforementioned lack of field testing that really undermines their claims. Now hold onto your hat while I tell you that EWG helped write these rudderless standards that omit field testing, and they did so in spite of President Clinton’s attempts to include testing in concert with the American Consumers Union!

Try to imagine the Olympics without athletes being tested for performance-enhancing drugs. Try to imagine Michelin Red Guide inspectors, or indeed even regular health-board inspectors, calling ahead before visiting a restaurant, and never sampling the food. The multi-billion-dollar organic industry − which stakes all of its marketing claims on the myth that it is purer, more natural and more nutritious than the conventional food industry − turns out to be a complete free-for-all.

And now for the fun part. I am an organic farmer, inspector and author! That’s right, I actually believe there could be provable, quantifiable benefits to eating organic food… in some cases at least. But at present there are basically none. So I’m writing to you to ask you to join me in my effort to bring science and objectivity to the business of certifying organic food. This is the only way to stem the advance of the political wing of the organic industry, a wing which includes no farmers and consists mainly of urban activists who’ve never worked a day on a farm in their life. Bringing science to organics will also lead to the elimination of more than half the organic industry’s current commercial volume, a welcome occurrence which would lead to a drastic reduction in funding for EWG and thereby discredit, once and for all, the proliferation of flagrant propaganda such as their 'Dirty Dozen' list. If this is not done, the conventional (including biotech) food sectors, which have safely and nutritiously fed billions upon billions of people over the decades, will continue to be subject to baseless attacks, and even legal victories in court won’t slow the tide of anti-scientific political activism. The activists have to be cut-off at their source: in the media, and be embarrassed into finally conducting routine field testing and surprise inspections across the board no matter how fearful they might be of the consequences.

Please have a look at my website where you’ll see some of the media work I’ve done in this area over the years. My work has been covered by Barron’s and The National Post, and I’ve given countless radio and television interviews. You’ll also see a number of highly-respected academics, business people and journalists copied on this email with whom I have communicated on this important matter over the years. Some might object to having their emails CC’d openly, but most won’t mind you knowing who they are because they appreciate that we all have a responsibility to promote objectivity, especially in the food industry. In one way or another, these people have all expressed support for my efforts to re-introduce the scientific process to the organic industry thereby reducing its political influence and forcing it to finally do what it claims to do: provide better food.

Please pick up a copy of my book Is it Organic? Whatever your assumptions surrounding organic food, I guarantee you’ll be both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by what I have written. And please consider my suggestion of joining me in my efforts.

All the best!

Mischa Popoff
Author of Is it Organic? The inside story of the organic industry
Some people won't like this book, but you will
Osoyoos BC Canada

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