Ask people who buy organic food what they like about it, and chances are, most will say “they’re grown without pesticides.” As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, that’s not actually true. While organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides, they do use a variety of chemicals to control insects and plant diseases — including such potentially dangerous substances as copper sulfate, rotenone, pyrethrum, ryania, and sabadilla. These “organic” pesticides are derived from minerals or plants, are lightly processed, and thus are considered to be “natural” for the purposes of organic agriculture. Yet, ounce for ounce, most are at least as toxic or carcinogenic as many of the newest synthetic chemical pesticides.
Now comes news from the UK’s Farmer’s Guardian newspaper that “[n]early half of the pesticides specially approved for use in organic farming [in the European Union] have failed EU safety tests and more could follow as the rules are tightened.” Conclusions of the risk assessments conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) under EU Plant Protection Products regulations first implemented in 1996 can be found here.
According to the Farmer’s Guardian, EFSA “has approved just 14 of the 27 organic pesticides put before it … although many have received a derogation for continued use.” Still, because more stringent rules are due to be promulgated next year, the European crop protection (i.e. pesticide) industry expects that more of the organic pesticides will be found unsafe.
According to an industry spokesperson, “Organic farmers already have limited options for crop protection and if more products are removed productivity could fall and prices could increase.” Of course, since the organic industry has been touting itself as a “pesticide free” alternative to conventional agriculture, this would just mean that what they’re producing conforms more closely to the hype.