Dora’s Health Article: Organic or not?

People often wonder if there truly is a benefit to buying organic. The well known disadvantage is the higher price tag. Another problem is that organic produce tends to spoil much faster than conventional produce, which means frequent trips to the grocery store and often wasted food.  How should we choose whether or not to buy organic?

Health Consequences for Your Family
Many of the most frequently found pesticide residues are known immunotoxins, neurotoxins or endocrine disruptors. This means that pesticides found on foods can have potentially damaging consequences to your family’s health and cognitive development.
Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of pesticides since their cognitive and physical development is occurring at a much faster rate than adults. A team of scientists from Harvard University and the University of Montreal has recently found a connection between exposure to pesticides commonly found on fruits and vegetables and the presence of symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children (ADHD). Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity and can adversely affect their learning ability.  The study focused on 1,139 children from the general U.S. population and measured pesticide levels in their urine.

EU Regulations on Pesticides
The EU has determined the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) of pesticides for produce that is grown in or imported to the EU. However, of the produce that has been tested in Europe, about 5% consistently exceeds the MRL*.

Meat, fish and dairy can contain exceedingly high levels of pesticides since the pesticide levels from animal feed will accumulate in their muscles and fat over time.

Moreover, some fruits and vegetables have higher levels of pesticides than others. In the EU, those containing the most pesticides are:

  • Mandarins
  • oranges
  • grapes
  • pears
  • apples 
  • strawberries
  • beans
  • spinach
  • aubergines 
  • peppers

(This varies by geographical region – for those of you who are American, the  most contaminated produce in the US are: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, and carrots).

The big question is: what can we do to limit our family’s exposure to pesticides? Indeed, going all organic can be a stretch to your budget, so here is how I prioritize:

Since pesticides linger in fat and muscle, I try to buy only organic meat, fish, eggs, and milk.
Next I look for organic fruit, because bugs, just like us, prefer sweet, ripe fruit, which often means more pesticides.
For vegetables, I buy some organic (especially those on the list above) and some conventional, but only from the EU.  The list of pesticides allowed on plants is fairly well controlled in the EU, but the standards are quite different abroad.

To reduce your level to pesticide exposure of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables , wash  produce in a vinegar: water (1:3 ratio of vinegar,Tafelessig and water) solution.  Keep it handy in a spray bottle by the sink.  Spritz your fruit and veggies, allow it to sit a minute, then rinse thoroughly. For leafy veggies and berries, create a vinegar/ water cold bath with a good splash of vinegar, then rinse. Don’t worry about a vinegar aftertaste, it rinses away, I promise!  Peeling fruits and vegetables will also remove some contaminants.

For more information on pesticides in Germany and the EU, visit and

*European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) 2007 Annual Report on Pesticide Residues

Dora Meyer, RN, BSN, MSPH
Health Educator

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