Food for Thought: Safe Food on Your Plate
Knowing where my food comes from and how it was grown has always been important to me. Growing up, I had always been exposed to farming. My brothers and I managed a small herd of sheep and a commercial garden. By the time I was eight, we were running a small breeding program raising lambs and growing and maintaining a quarter-acre vegetable garden, and selling at the local farmers market.
From that point on, I had always viewed food through the eyes of a farmer (albeit, a small farmer). I learned how to care for the soil, when to plant, how to manage pests and how to respond to consumer demands for certain fruits and vegetables at the farmers market. I like to say that we were early trendsetters of the local and small farming movement, and our ugly tomatoes were way ahead of their time.
While I knew how I grew my own fruits and vegetables, I still needed to know how to pick safe food that didn’t come from my own garden.
Having previously worked at the USDA, I found out that the Department does an extensive job of collecting thousands of samples of produce every year which became another resource for me as I considered how to feed my child with nutritious food. The Pesticide Data Program (PDP) sampling includes over 100 different fruits, vegetables and other commonly eaten foods that are analyzed for over 600 different pesticides and metabolites. For the past 25 years, PDP has delivered information to American consumers showing that well over 99% of the foods tested have residue levels well below the legal limits set by EPA and pose no safety concerns. These USDA labs use analytical detection methods that are extremely sensitive and can detect trace amounts of pesticide at one part per billion. Just to get an idea of how small this is; one part per million is equivalent to just 1 drop of water in an Olympic sized pool! The USDA and the EPA provide much more detailed information about their testing and conclusions about the safety of pesticides on fruit and vegetables, and their Q&A document provides an informative and scientifically base summary.
Food Chain Sustainability Manager Bayer Crop Science
I also discovered the website by The Alliance for Food and Farming called SafeFruitsandVeggies.com. This science-based resource has a Pesticide Residue Calculator that shows how many servings of food you could eat in a day if they contained the highest pesticide residue for a given person and food. The Pesticide Residue Calculator shows that my daughter could eat 181 servings of strawberries without any effect from any residual pesticides. My daughter may love to eat strawberries but there’s no way she could eat that much! As the website states, “the mere presence of trace levels of pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful.”
Food for Thought: Safe Food on Your Plate
The other thing I found from the data was that USDA tests for residues on organics and conventionally grown crops. Pesticides are used on both conventional and organic, with one of the major differences being that for USDA certified organics, only natural (non-synthetic) pesticides may be used. For a full list of the products that can be used on organics, click here.
From a nutrition perspective, the great news is that both organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious. Based upon an analysis of 46 studies, a 2009 report found that “there is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.”
I had similar questions when I looked at GMO and non-GMO products. My first question was which fruits and vegetables are considered GMO. I found that most of the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. are currently non-GMO. For the handful that are, I turned to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recent report on GMOs. The report finds that there is no evidence to suggest that foods from genetically engineered (GE) crops are less safe than foods from non-GE crops and it also finds that they can show benefits for the environment. More information on GMOs can be found at https://gmoanswers.com/ as well as new labeling laws that will go into place to identify what is, and isn’t a GMO.
In the end, the food you eat and feed your family is a personal choice. We are lucky that we have such a diverse selection of many healthy and safe foods at affordable prices.
As you make your grocery shopping decisions, don’t forget to wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating. Regardless of whether you choose conventionally or organically grown foods, the most important decision you can make is to eat the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.