USDA Organic Does Not Mean NO PESTICIDES

USDA Organic Does Not Mean NO PESTICIDES…

Foods labeled with the USDA Certified Organic logo, doesn’t mean there was never any pesticides used while growing the product.

In fact, the USDA has a list of approved pesticides that organic farmers may use while growing organic food.

This is not meant to be “alarming” or “critical.” We share this information here so that Washington consumers may be informed of the facts. The truth is, there is a long list of allowed and prohibited substances that may be used by organic farmers, and still place the USDA Organic label on their product packaging.

Why are we bringing this up? Because, there is a perception among food buyers that if the USDA Organic label appears on a product, there was NEVER ANY KIND OF PESTICIDE used to protect the crop. The truth is, this is NOT the case and is a misperception of consumers that tends to be ignored or at worse, encouraged.

Pests like to eat our food crops. I remember working at a farmers market where the local grower sold corn on the cob. A woman was pulling back the husks on each ear of corn only to discover a worm chomping away on the very top of the ear; about which she’d complain and then place to the side for me to “throw it away.” I tried to explain to her that almost all corn cobs have a little guy living at the top, she shouldn’t be alarmed, and that the rest of the cob was just fine.

People don’t like to see bug bites on their produce at the grocery store, farmers market, etc. Pesticides are used to “shoo away” the unwelcome diners. I like to purchase tomatoes, apples and lettuce that look fresh and healthy. Most people do as well. Both conventional and organic farming allow for safe use of pesticides to ensure the quality of food at the market.

In the case of organically grown food, it’s important for people to know that many certified organically grown foods have had approved substances applied as pesticides.

Pesticides approved for organic farming…

So what about this LIST of Allowed and Prohibited Substances?

The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances identifies the synthetic substances that may be used, as well as the nonsynthetic (natural) substances that may not be used for organic food production.

Section 205.601 of the National List, entitled Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production reads;

“In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water…”

The list includes:

  • Alcohols, including Ethanol and Isopropanol
  • Chlorine materials
  • Copper sulfate
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Ozone gas
  • Peracetic acid
  • Soap-based algicides and insecticides

The list goes on.

An article published by NPR entitled, Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron, quotes Jeff Gillman, then a professor of nursery management at the University of Minnesota, who said,

“When people are buying organic food, they often make the incorrect assumption that there are no pesticides.“

The article goes on to describe a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of produce that found at the time, nearly 20-percent of organic lettuce tested positive for pesticide residues. Apparently a lot of the lettuce contained spinosad, a pesticide marketed by Dow Chemical under the brand name Entrust.

Spinosad is made from the naturally occurring soil bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa, and is approved for use in organic farming; in this case as an effective pesticide to control insects.

Professor Jeff Gilman from the NPR article also said,

“Just because an organic farmer used some authorized chemicals is no reason to shun the food. But it’s important for consumers to know what’s going on.”

In a Systematic Review published by Annals of Internal Medicine the authors ask the question, “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?” Their conclusion:

“The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods…”

Professor Jeff Gilman from the NPR article also said,

“Just because an organic farmer used some authorized chemicals is no reason to shun the food. But it’s important for consumers to know what’s going on.”

When it comes to agriculture, the USDA has very tight regulations about precisely how much of a substance may be used, and for what purpose; be it pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer. That goes for both conventional and organic farming.

Recap: It’s a myth that USDA Certified Organic means NO synthetic substances were ever used during food production.

No one seems to be trying to “pull the wool” over anyone’s eyes about conventional and organic farming, but rather, seems to conveniently ignore the truth in favor of perpetuating an incorrect notion.

So, here’s the bottom line: Washington state grows some of the best, AND SAFEST, food in the world: that includes both conventionally grown, and organically grown.


Find out more about USDA requirements for a farm to receive organic certification and accreditation.