Skip to main content

Pesticides are a Danger to Health and the Environment - Choose Organic Food!

Pesticides are poisons!

Strawberries...and what else?

Fruit may look good, even taste good, but be extremely unsafe to eat

Picture a bowl of fresh, deep red strawberries. They look simply luscious, don’t they? Smell that wonderfully sweet berry fragrance. Ah-h-h-h….Now, dip your dessert spoon into the bowl, scoop up a big strawberry and prepare to take a bite of…POISON?

Want pesticides with that?

No, that word ("pesticides") is not a typo. If your bowl of strawberries was not grown by certified organic or naturally-grown/pesticide-free farming methods, chances are you’ll eat a large helping of pesticide residue along with your fruit. Penetrated by chemicals, strawberries grown by commercial farming methods may be very hazardous to your health.

There were probably multiple pesticides and fungicides used on the strawberry field if the berries in your bowl were conventionally grown. It’s the practice of commercial strawberry farmers to use different types (up to nine) during the various phases of the growth cycle. None of these chemical sprays can be considered healthy for you to consume, and your strawberries may contain residue from all of them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now considers 60% of all herbicides, 90% of all fungicides, and 30% of all insecticides as potentially cancer-causing chemicals. A study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published in 2009 discovered that children living in homes where pesticides are used (even a can of bug spray) are twice as likely to develop brain cancer as those living in homes in which no pesticides are used. Do you really want to eat something linked to causing cancer? Do you want your loved ones to eat carcinogens or be exposed to carginogens in their environment?

Some pesticides cause harm to the central nervous system. Others may impair the hormonal glands of the endocrine system. Still other pesticides irritate the eyes and respiratory system, and long-term exposure may cause chronic illness. Pesticides may pose a higher risk to developing children, pregnant women (causing birth defects), people who have chronic illness or a compromised immune system, as well as the elderly.

Strawberries are high on the list of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” (those produce items that retain the greatest amounts of pesticide residue), so it’s more likely your bowl has a hefty serving of them—pesticides, that is. You can find the EWG's complete list at the link below:

Bad, worse or worst?

California, where 38,000 acres of strawberry fields produce a large percentage of the U.S.commercial strawberry crop, approved methyl iodide to replace the banned pesticide methyl bromide. The latter chemical was internationally prohibited by the Clean Air Act and an international treaty because its use was damaging the ozone layer.

Methyl iodide is being used by commercial farmers in California, but not without protests from many quarters. In fact, a lawsuit was filed against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation by a group of California farm workers and an environmental organization in an attempt to halt the use of methyl iodide. Since the pesticide is generally applied at the rate of 100 pounds per acre and has a tendency to drift through the air, farm workers and residents of nearby communities are highly at risk from this toxic chemical.

The legal tactic didn’t work, for DPR head, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, went ahead and approved the pesticide’s use. It was immediately sprayed liberally onto chili pepper fields in the Fresno area. It was slated to be used on strawberry fields as well.

Warmerdam insists the state put in place “health protective measures” that she claims will allow methyl iodide to be used safely. She doesn’t say what those measures are, or how her agency can ensure that people who eat California berries and other produce sprayed with methyl iodide can avoid such devastating effects as neurological damage, fetal death and cancer. These were determined potential consequences of exposure to this chemical by scientific studies prior to its approval.

What do scientists think about it?

There were dissenters to Warmerdam’s decision from the DPR’s Scientific Review Committee, including the chairperson, John Foines, PhD, who said in an interview that he and everyone else on the committee think methyl iodide will cause disease and illness. Dr. Foines does not believe the strategies DPR proposed for mitigating the risks will be adequate, because, “…this is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth.”

Scroll to Continue

The question goes begging: Why does the DPR have an advisory panel of scientists qualified to make recommendations about pesticides if what they counsel is going to be ignored? That makes about as much sense as the department’s name, since approval of a highly toxic chemical for use on food crops doesn't seem to me to actually be "regulation." What do you think?


When does "banned" REALLY mean banned?

The state of Louisiana also produces strawberries. A disturbing item seen on the website of the Louisiana State University Ag Center when this article was being researched was a recommendation for strawberry farmers to use the now-banned pesticide, methyl bromide, on top of the crop rows as an initial measure.

This is the actual information I found on that site in June, 2010:

Recommended Herbicides

Plastic mulch and fumigation with methyl bromide control most of the weeds on top of the row. Weeds are still a problem between the rows. Failure to control weeds in row middles will enhance the development of mites.

Thinking the information on the site might simply be out of date, I called various media contacts for the LSU Ag Center and finally talked to Dr. Donald M. Ferrin, Ph.D., Associate Professor in LSU’s Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology.

I asked Dr. Ferrin if it was true that the banned pesticide methyl bromide was still used on strawberry crops in Louisiana, as recommended on the LSU Ag Center website. He told me the pesticide was being slowly “phased out”, but would continue to be used until current supplies are depleted. (In a follow-up email, the professor stated the depletion of supplies would probably occur in 2013 or 2014.)

Dr. Ferrin went on to tell me that methyl bromide is a biocide injected into the soil before planting, and that it “...kills basically everything in the soil.”

I asked him if he was aware of the dangers of the pesticide methyl iodide, now approved by California to replace methyl bromide, and he answered, “It’s a poison.”

To which I replied, “They all are.”

Dr. Ferrin later sent me an email with this link for details regarding the latitude the U.S.government has given produce growers to continue using methyl bromide, after it was internationally banned.

Update, February, 2014: The link above shows that strawberries are still on the list of exemptions with regard to methyl bromide use. There are additional exemptions listed for 2015 and 2016, and strawberries stay on that list both those years. If you think the EPA gets in a hurry to rid food and the environment of poisonous substances that can harm humans and animals...think again!

UPDATE, February, 2015: The URL below takes you to the approved application for "critical use" of methyl bromide through 2016. (You may have to copy and paste it into your browser.)

Poison sprayed from the air drifts away from crops on wind

Poison sprayed from the air drifts away from crops on wind

Poison clouds

Unfortunately, pesticides (a term which includes insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) are all too commonly in use around the world. The stuff is sprayed in massive volume on commercial crops of vegetables and fruits. Have you ever noticed a crop-dusting plane dropping pesticide? The clouds of poison trailing behind it don’t all fall to the fields. Some of the chemical blows away to drift onto neighboring communities and bodies of water.

Pesticides are also used by many “family” farmers who subscribe to the theory that killing all insects is the only way to harvest a “good” crop. Poisons are deployed, not only during a crop’s growth phases, but often for spraying the ground soil after the harvest to control insects in it until time to plant again.

Rivers and Streams are Contaminated by Poisonous Chemicals


Where does all that pesticide go?

What happens to the pesticide that penetrates the soil? It may pass down through the earth to reach the water table. After a rain, toxic chemicals then travel through the ground or run off to reach nearby streams, rivers and lakes. Fish, frogs and other aquatic life are often victims of pesticides. Large fish kills due to water contamination by pesticides are not uncommon. Any contact by humans with water that is so tainted is potentially dangerous.

Lawn and garden care can be hazardous to health.

What's so terrible about a little crab grass and errant weeds?

What's so terrible about a little crab grass and errant weeds?

Herbicides are poisons, too!

Let’s not forget all the toxic chemicals used on lawns. Rather than pulling weeds by hand, many residents now reach for a jug of herbicide to spray the offending weeds or pre-treat an entire lawn to prevent weeds from sprouting. It’s a common misperception that herbicides aren’t dangerous to humans or the environment. That simply is not true. Lawn-care chemicals are toxic and often used in large volume or indiscriminately; therefore, they are very dangerous indeed.

Are those strawberries safe to eat?

You can buy fresh or frozen certified organic fruit. You must still wash it before eating.

You can buy fresh or frozen certified organic fruit. You must still wash it before eating.

Go for Organic without Breaking the Bank

Okay, let’s get back to that bowl of strawberries. Uh…you’re not really hungry now? I’m really glad you aren’t going to eat that particular bowl of strawberries. I hope you will now pass up all fruits and vegetables except those grown by true organic or naturally-grown/pesticide-free methods.

By the way, if you subscribe to the theory that buying organic foods is prohibitively expensive, please check out the link (below) to a book that proves otherwise. It's WILDLY AFFORDABLE ORGANIC by Linda Watson, who says you can "Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy and Save the Planet - All on $5 a Day or Less."

Inspired by writer Michael Pollan and the Food Stamp Challenge (linked to the national Food Stamp daily average of $1.00 per meal per person), she and her husband began the challenge with the goal of eating organic while spending only $5 or less per day. The book is available on Amazon for a discount price (see link below), and in it Watson tells you in detail how you too can eat healthy organic food at much less cost than eating junk food. A word of warning: you won't be eating junk food or even convenience food. Get ready to cook, but you may find yourself enjoying it...especially when you can eat delicious meals that are both thrifty and healthy. Why not challenge yourself to follow in Linda Watson's footsteps? Her book tells you how and contains numerous luscious healthy recipes to help you along.

If there's a Whole Foods Market near you, watch for sales on fresh organic produce, and buy organic bulk nuts, organic bulk spices and other bulk foods to save money. The store brand, 365, has some good prices on organic processed foods that help you stay on budget. Whenever buying anything that comes packaged, remember to read the label thoroughly so you will know what, if any, additives it contains. (UPDATE, March, 2015: Vani Hari's book, "The Food Babe Way" (it actually has a very long subtitle) is now on sale and provides a mind-blowing list of some unsafe and really gross additives put into the U.S. food supply. I highly recommend this book. Don't read it just before you eat, though, or you may get queasy when you learn the source of some "natural" flavorings!)

Herbicides--not safe for kids

Don't use herbicides on your lawn where kids will play.

Don't use herbicides on your lawn where kids will play.

Herbicides--not safe for pets

Herbicides should not be used on lawns where pets play.

Herbicides should not be used on lawns where pets play.

Avoid the use of herbicides and other chemicals on your lawn

We all know that kids and pets like to play outdoors. Children may lie down on the ground, roll around on it and even nibble on blades of grass. Pets roll in the grass and eat plants. Some even stay outdoors much of the time. While herbicides are also dangerous to adults, at least our immune systems are not quite as vulnerable as those of growing children or pets. Organophosphate herbicides have been strongly implicated in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), even with relatively low levels of exposure.

Pets, particularly dogs, are vulnerable to cancer from ingesting pesticide or walking in chemically-treated turf. Canine malignant lymphoma can be the heartbreaking result.

Herbicides are dangerous for birds and other wildlife

It's dangerous for this little bird to eat anything from herbicide-treated turf or it may die.

It's dangerous for this little bird to eat anything from herbicide-treated turf or it may die.

Other victims of pesticides

Herbicide-treated turf is infamous for killing birds. The chemical Diazinon is so lethal that grazing on grass treated with this poison can kill a bird in only 15 minutes. There have been numerous documented incidents of bird kills (up to 1000 birds an incident) in the U.S.

Healthy soil contains millions of “good” microorganisms that help plants use nutrients for growth. They are also needed to hold water in the soil, regulate water flow and filter pollutants. Heavy use of pesticides causes soil to degrade from the loss of microorganisms. Finally, the soil cannot hold nutrients that plants need to grow healthy.

If the saying, “You are what you eat” is true for people, it is also true for animals. Pets should be fed certified organic pet food. Corn, one of the most common ingredients in non-organic pet foods and also in feed for meat animals, is heavily contaminated by pesticides. (Commercial feed for meat animals is also genetically modified, or GMO, if that’s a concern.) Therefore, the animals that eat it, both family pets as well as animals destined for the slaughterhouse, are affected by their food’s toxicity. (Take that a step further, and think about eating meat that is contaminated by pesticide-laden feed.)

Grow your own produce!

Natalie Nauer and her husband Tony work hard in their garden to produce a bountiful crop of delicious vegetables to eat in-season and can or freeze for the winter.

Natalie Nauer and her husband Tony work hard in their garden to produce a bountiful crop of delicious vegetables to eat in-season and can or freeze for the winter.

Buy organic or naturally-grown/pesticide-free produce

A booth of organic veggies at my local farmers market

A booth of organic veggies at my local farmers market

Buy locally-grown produce grown without pesticides when possible

Produce with the "USDA Certified Organic" seal that you find in the supermarket is not completely pesticide-free, though concentrations are minute in comparison with that found in produce grown by traditional methods. When you buy locally-grown safe fruits and vegetables, you are not only making a healthy decision, you are helping reduce the earth's carbon footprint. Food grown nearby and harvested shortly before you buy it tastes so much better than food that's been trucked across the continent or even imported from another country.

Look at the booths in your local farmers market and ask around until you find at least one (preferably several) growers who sell certified organic or pesticide-free foods. Safe produce may not look quite as pretty as produce sprayed with pesticides. It may have slight blemishes. But locally-grown, pesticide-free fruits and veggies are much healthier. There's a price paid that has nothing to do with money to make a peach look picture perfect!


Speaking of money, safer produce may cost more, but please don’t let that stop you from buying it. Isn’t it worth the extra price in terms of good health for you and your family? You can’t really put a price tag on health and safety, can you? Once you or a family member contracts a serious disease, such as cancer, that might have been avoided, the cost for medical care--not to mention the pain, suffering and mental anguish--make the slightly higher cost of safe organic food pale in significance. Don't wait until it's too late to make the right choice. Switch to organic foods before you or someone you love sickens from pesticide poison.

Whenever someone tells me, "I can't afford to buy organic food," I always equate that statement with the one made by someone who knows the dangers of smoking (usually made while waving a lit cigarette in the air): "Well...we all have to die from something, don't we?"

Yes we will all die from something, but it's foolish to rush the process with an unhealthy lifestyle. Eating pesticide-laden produce and factory-farmed meats full of antibiotics, hormones and other toxins is as dangerous to our health (and that of our families) as smoking. Eating "clean" is a health choice as much as a dietary one. It's hard to believe that buying cheaper food could be more of a priority for parents than protecting their growing children's health.

By the way, even organic produce should be thoroughly washed before eating. The absence of pesticide residue does not mean there are no bacteria lurking within organic lettuce leaves or on that luscious-looking tomato. E. coli and salmonella are just two of the pathogens that can make you very ill.

Here's the formula for an inexpensive and easy-to-make produce wash: In a spray bottle, mix 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar and 1 cup cold water. Shake well to mix, spray on your produce (even those fruits and veggies you're planning to peel) and rinse before eating. Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after handling fresh produce, too.


Update, 2014: By the way, last summer I bought delicious fresh USDA-certified organic strawberries at my local Fresh Market. They were displayed side-by-side with "conventionally-grown" (meaning pesticides were used) berries that looked the same. The organic berries (a 1/2-pint size carton) cost $1 more than the pesticide-laden berries. Why on earth would I--or anyone--buy poisoned berries to save one dollar? It boggles the mind!