Consumer Reports Study Supports Organic Farming

Organic apple for teething
Little Dan loves organic apples!

Recently, I’ve been contemplating an eye-opening article in Consumer Reports’ May-June 2024 edition titled “‘Produce without Pesticides.“‘ This story unveils CR’s extensive seven-year study, analyzing data from the Department of Agriculture on pesticide residues in 59 common fruits and vegetables.

The insights gained from this study are disturbing and complex but reinforce the safety of our organic farming practices, and we are incredibly grateful for studies like CRs that validate our efforts and provide essential information for improving our food supply in the US and advocating for the benefits of organic farming. Click here for Consumer Reports’ Methodology for Ranking Pesticide Dietary Risks. Read on to discover how this information supports organic farming and a healthier food supply: 

Validation of Organic Practices:

Organic blueberries
Delicious organic blueberries in July!

CR’s study reinforces the efficacy of organic farming in reducing pesticide residues in food, particularly highlighting the safety of organic produce. The study revealed risky pesticides in conventional produce based on the pesticide type and unhealthy levels of pesticides. Conventional blueberries are highly risky because of phosmet residue, an organophosphate. In the same risk category are conventional watermelon and potatoes. The information highlights the importance of choosing organic options for safer consumption, even if the peeling or rind is not eaten.

As I digest this information, I remember Marion Nestle, a prominent nutritionist and author. Her insightful book Food Politics sheds light on the complex interplay between food, health, and societal influences. She advocates for transparency in food systems and calls for greater public awareness and engagement in food-related issues. She encourages consumers to consider the broader implications of their food choices and advocate for policies promoting health, sustainability, and social justice. I feel like the information brought to our attention by this study could be a springboard for greater public awareness, as recommended by Marion.

Consumer Confidence:

CRO Staff Photo 2023
We’re a small but mighty team!

The study’s findings have the potential to boost consumer confidence in organic products by showcasing their lower pesticide residues compared to conventionally grown foods. Perhaps the information will raise consumer confidence and lead to a higher demand for organic produce, benefiting organic farmers who adhere to rigorous yearly audits to maintain USDA organic certification. You can rest assured that we go to great pains to provide you with the safest fruit available. Food safety is one of the reasons we began farming organically 33 years ago.

Organic farming is subject to strict regulations that limit pesticide use to natural and organic pesticides derived from plant-based or mineral sources and emphasize sustainable pest management practices. Conventional farming follows regulatory guidelines for synthetic pesticide use but may use a broader range of chemical pesticides, which are subject to approval by regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency.

Educational Impact:

Farmer Photo
Bill inspecting our organic Honeycrisp apples

Consumer Reports study serves as an educational resource, raising awareness among consumers, policymakers, and the food industry about the risks associated with pesticide residues on non-organic produce. The study’s recommendations for stricter regulations and improved inspections of imported food align with our mission to prioritize human health and sustainable farming methods. The issue with fruit imported from Mexico is a symptom of the “safeguards” not working as they should. As Marion Nestle suggests, let’s pay attention to the quality of our food and ask for more transparency.

We hope that consumers will support local (as in the US) organic farmers so that we are not dependent on other countries for our food supply. At Chelan Ranch, we strive to deliver farm-to-door organic fruit grown here in Washington State.

Advocacy for Safer Agriculture:

organic harvest worker
It’s not hard to get a smile during harvest at Chelan Ranch.

CR’s advocacy for reduced pesticide exposure aligns perfectly with our commitment to safer and healthier agricultural practices. The study’s insights into pesticide dangers for farmworkers and their families underscore the urgent need for improved pesticide regulations and safer agricultural practices. Farm worker safety is another one of the reasons we began farming organically.

In addition, farming organically safeguards vulnerable ecosystems and wildlife from the harmful effects of pesticides. Unlike conventional farming, organic practices prohibit using neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that pose risks to aquatic life, birds, and essential pollinators like honeybees, wild bees, and butterflies. Organic pesticides often work through non-toxic mechanisms, disrupting pests’ feeding habits or interfering with their mating cycles. In contrast, conventional pesticides may target pests more aggressively, affecting their nervous systems and metabolic functions, as in the neonicotinoids.

Market Differentiation:

Varieties of apples
Where’s the organic produce section?

The study emphasizes the safety of choosing organic products, particularly for fruits like blueberries and watermelon, due to the pesticide levels found in the study. This information helps differentiate organic produce in the marketplace, making consumers more aware of the potential risks of pesticide residues in non-organic foods.

Consumer Reports organized their test results into a color chart so that consumers could choose produce with the best ratings and reduce pesticide exposure. The article states, “Organic foods’ low-risk ratings indicate that the USDA’s organic certification program, for the most part, is working. When an organic food item has a moderate rating, the study explains it was caused by contamination from conventional produce in the same processing plant. I have to ask, why are organic potatoes packed in the same processing plant as conventional potatoes?

Influence on Policy and Standards:

Organic Seal
Only real organic produce has this label.

The findings from CR’s study can influence policy decisions and regulatory standards related to pesticide use and food safety, potentially leading to stricter regulations in conventional agriculture and greater support for organic farming initiatives. Farmers don’t need more regulation. Let’s regulate the chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the use of pesticides on crops. According to this study, when the EPA bans a high-risk pesticide, some conventional farmers switch to a similar one that is still on the market and is equally or more high-risk. According to James Rogers, PhD, who oversees food safety at CR, this has happened a lot over the decades. As a result, CR is asking for a total ban on the use of organophosphates or carbamate in food crops. The other option is to buy organically certified food.

Support for the Organic Movement:

Children organic bb picking
Our organic blueberry fields are a healthy place for children!

The Consumer Reports study recommends using their ratings to prioritize certain fruits and vegetables in your diet, especially focusing on organic options. Extra precautions are advised for children and pregnant individuals. Twelve foods with significant concerns were identified, and it’s suggested that consumption of these foods be limited. Replace high-risk foods with lower-risk alternatives or opt for organic options when possible. Importantly, be cautious with imported foods, particularly those from Mexico. Consumer Reports’ support for organic farming practices strengthens the organic movement by encouraging more farmers to transition to organic methods, promoting sustainable agriculture, and contributing to a healthier food supply.

Hopefully, the information from this study on pesticides in food will activate greater public awareness and engagement in food-related issues. It reinforces the importance of organic agriculture and advocates for safer and healthier food production practices, contributing to a brighter and more sustainable future for agriculture. Remember, organic is always non-GMO! But that’s another discussion!