Organophosphate pesticides (OPs) are among the most used pesticides in agriculture. They are basically neurotoxic, causing neurological issues, learning and developmental disorders and depression, and sometimes leading to suicide.
Just to make sure everyone got their fair share of neurotoxic OPs, the EPA estimated that about 33 million pounds of organophosphate pesticides were used in 2007. That’s a fraction of the 1.1 billion pounds of pesticides used mostly by Big Ag, 80 percent.
There have been reductions in OP use, but the addition of other pesticides and herbicides applied in increasing amounts has more then covered the positive gains of those reductions, as conventional and GMO farming practices demand ever more toxins to maintain their production.
Odd how organic farmers manage without all that.
But a Boise State’s School of Allied Health Sciences research group in decided to use the OP group of pesticides as the main marker for their research to determine if organic food offered a viable health difference.
The Boise research approach
Neurological and other health effects have been associated with OP residues among farm workers, including suicide after extreme depression in Chinese farmers. Even children whose mothers were pregnant while living near farms in California that received generous spraying have shown definite negative impacts on learning abilities and increased tendencies toward ADHD symptoms and behavioral issues.
But for this study, assistant professor and lead author Cynthia Curl collaborated with others in different locations and created the study, called “Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).”
As the name may imply, their study population of 4,466 came from within the existing MESA group, just as many other broad studies employ large nurses’ groups whose markers, habits and medical records are readily accessible.
Cynthia and her colleagues used urinary dialkylphosphate (DAP) levels among the subgroups within that major group and compared the levels between groups with reported dietary consumption of non-organic produce and those whose organic produce consumption was at least moderate.
The Boise Allied Health study concluded: Long-term dietary exposure to OPs were estimated from dietary intake data, and estimates were consistent with DAP measurements. More frequent consumption of organic produce was associated with lower DAPs.
Professor Curl has high hopes for variations and extensions of this study. “The next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes, including neurological and cognitive endpoints. We’ll be able to do that in this same population of nearly 4,500 people,” she said.
And further down the road, Professor Curl envisions, “If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people. That will allow research on organic food to be both less expensive and less invasive.”
For now, Cynthia recommends everyone at least avoid the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Dirty Dozen List, which lists the 12 most heavily chemically sprayed fruits and veggies that you must replace with organic. The EWG also has a Clean Fifteen List, the 15 least chemically sprayed fruits and veggies, which indicates that it’s safe to pinch pennies by purchasing a Clean Fifteen avocado instead of an organic avocado.