I have vivid childhood memories of my grandparents repeatedly telling me that it was important to wash fruit and vegetables before eating any with edible skin. If they weren't watching, I often didn't bother though. Even into adulthood, a bag of grapes bought with the food shopping, would often be too tempting (especially if I was thirsty) to survive the journey home, let alone last long enough to be introduced to the kitchen tap! A quick, half-hearted rub of each would suffice and down the hatch they'd go!
Now, knowing so much more about pesticides, decades on, I have finally taken notice of my grandparents' wise warnings and in doing so, I do my very best to avoid buying non-organic food. Many organic sceptics (including Delia Smith) seem to miss the point about why we're better off buying organic food, by assuming that the benefit is largely about taste or nutrition. A while ago I happened to catch a glimpse of a guest on The One Show being asked to blind test some food…… carrots I think, and then guess which sample was the organic one. He stated his verdict with absolute confidence, but unfortunately he picked the wrong one! No doubt the organic sceptics were all rubbing their hands in glee, claiming that this proved their point that organic food was just a fad that conned consumers into parting with more money.
Organic food is not just about taste though. I don't doubt that nutritionally, an organic tomato is quite possibly going to have a very similar nutritional value to a non-organic one – but that's not the issue. It is about buying food which hasn't been genetically modified and, most importantly in my view, food which hasn't been basted in pesticides. In the same way that this website denounces the detrimental effects of pesticides on cotton farmers and their workers, the same welfare concerns of course apply for pesticide use on food crops. Even if you are able to put the humanitarian factors to the back of your mind, washing your fruit and vegetables doesn't necessarily remove all residues of pesticides and the idea of ingesting these toxins is a particularly unpalatable one. Nobody would consider dousing their food in chemical household cleaning chemicals - and then trying to rinse it all away, yet we don't seem to be so particular about the poisonous chemicals that have been used in our food's production, before we bought it.
Don't be fooled into thinking that the effects of pesticides in farming is limited to faraway countries and that here in the UK we're better protected from the use of harmful chemicals on home-grown food. Georgina Downs has campaigned vigorously against the use of pesticides. In November 2008, she made legal history, winning a high-profile and landmark case against the government for their failure to protect the public against the use of pesticide-spraying. People living, working or going to school in rural areas or near agricultural fields are at the greatest risk of developing potentially serious health problems due to the spraying of crops nearby.
Pesticides are often: known or suspected carcinogens; hormone disruptors; neurotoxins; or developmental and reproductive toxicants, attributed to a multitude of health problems. A new study by Harvard claims that even tiny, allowable amounts of a common pesticide class can have dramatic effects on brain chemistry. Children have long-since been known to be especially vulnerable to the effects of toxins and they're reportedly twice as likely to have ADHD if they have above average pesticides levels.
Extremely worryingly, pesticides are also being considered to be a significant factor in the very serious issue of the massive decline globally of bees. Albert Einstein is said to have estimated that humanity would be unable to survive more than four years without bees. The US has recently reported that for the third year running, their bee population has declined by a third.
So I would urge you to consider choosing organic products wherever possible. Supermarkets are offering more and more organic options for everyday foods. You'd be amazed though at the worst culprits for high pesticide content – flour being a particularly unexpected one.
Choosing organic food may cost a little more than non-organic – but these days, it often really is only a LITTLE bit more. How easily do we waste much more than a few pounds or pence on other products or unnecessary purchases, without a thought? Jamie Oliver, in his mission to encourage more people to eat organic chicken despite the higher cost, offered the very valid argument to just eat chicken less often but to buy organic when you do.
Choosing organic food will help the environment and agricultural workers worldwide (many are children), as well as helping to safeguard your and your children's health too. Going organic will also encourage the shops to widen their range, through increased demand and by keeping it viable for them stock organic products with reduced wastage from unbought organic lines.
To find out more about the pesticides in your food, use this great What's On My Food tool (by clicking on the "What's on my food?" banner, above) from PAN UK (Pesticides Action Network UK) which will tell you what you really are eating. Try it out… you'd be amazed!!!