The Inconvenient Truth about Produce

[I write a sustainability tip for my company’s electronic newsletter. This is a re-post of this week’s story.]

bobolinkThe New York Times recently ran an editorial from a biology professor that points out some inconvenient truths about imported produce: “fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with … pesticides that would often be illegal in the US.”

As a result, migratory birds “are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides,” some of which are so lethal they can kill 7 to 25 songbirds per acre. Some bird populations have declined by nearly 50 percent.

These birds are also “modern-day canaries in the coal mine,” revealing a rash of environmental problems:

  • Latin American fruits and vegetables are three times as likely to violate EPA standards for pesticide residues
  • CDC tests show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood

A recent study in the US confirmed this, finding that “the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from area groceries contained biological markers of organophosphates, the family of pesticides spawned by the creation of nerve gas agents in World War II.”

By buying organic, many of these problems can be reversed. The same study noted that “Within eight to 36 hours of the children switching to organic food, the pesticides were no longer detected in the testing.”

The Times editorial recommends avoiding inorganic coffee and bananas, as well as nontraditional Latin American crops such as melons, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries. “We should buy these foods only if they are not imported from Latin America.”

Further reading:

Postscript: Juuust today, there’s yet another post on Treehugger, “Thank Your Lucky Bat for Shade-Grown Organic Coffee,” that notes:

a study from the University of Michigan has shown that during the summer wet season, bats eat more bugs than the birds at Finca Irlanda, a 740-acre organic coffee plantation in Chiapas, Mexico. This is just one example of a great ‘ecological service’ that went unnoticed until now. How many more do we benefit from without realizing it?

True true true. Think of it like a free market for bug control. If you don’t tinker with the “market” (by dousing the fields with pesticides), then the birds and the bats eat the bugs. If you do tinker, you kill the bugs and the birds and the bats — oh, and poison people, too!

Welcome everyone from! If you’re looking for more posts like this, check out the sustainability category. And if you have questions, my e-mail address in on the about page.

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