A Pregnant Woman Eating Organic Vs. Eating Conventional: It’s Time To Think About Your Baby
It seems as if it was yesterday when the masses were completely unaware of the concerns being raised by a number of internationally recognized scientists regarding Genetically Modified Foods (GM). Now, dozens of countries in Europe have completely banned or have severe restrictions on GMOs, which includes the pesticides that go along with them. In fact, 19 new countries in Europe recently banned the growing of Genetically Modified foods in their countries, citing a number of health and environmental concerns. You can read more about that here.
The Difference Between Organic Food & Conventional Food
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic farms and processors must not use any genetically modified ingredients. This means that organic farmers can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO feed, an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients, and so on. Farmers and processors must show that they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances from farm to table. In order for something to qualify as organic, it must also be free from most synthetic materials, like pesticides and antibiotics. (source)(source)
Conventional food is (obviously) the exact opposite. Conventional food can be sprayed with pesticides, contain genetically modified ingredients, as well as administer antibiotics.
Eating Organic vs Eating Conventional
In 2012, a widely reported Stanford University study concluded that there is little difference in the healthfulness and safety of conventional and organic food. (source) Since its publication, experts in the environmental and health sciences department criticized the study for completely overlooking a large and growing body of evidence regarding the adverse effects of pesticides. More specifically, a letter accepted for publication in the Annals of Internal Medicine pointed to the lack of information in the study regarding extensive data on the number, frequency, potential combinations, and associated health risks of pesticide residues in sprayed food. This publication calculated a 94% reduction in health risk attributable to eating organic forms of six pesticide intensive fruits. (source)
So is organic food more nutritious?
“In carefully designed studies comparing organic and conventional apples, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, milk, carrots, grains and several other raw foods, organic farming leads to increases on the order of 10% to 30% in the levels of several nutrients, but not all. Vitamin C, antioxidants, and phenolic acids tend to be higher in organic food about 60% to 80% of the time, while vitamin A and protein is higher in conventional food 50% to 80% of the time.” – Charles Benbrook, research professor and program leader for Measure to Manage (M2M): Far and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health at Washington State University (source)
A team led by Kristen Brant, a scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, carried out one of the most sophisticated meta-analysis of the “organic-versus-conventional food” nutrient-content debate. Their analysis was published in Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences in 2011, under the title, “Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Cause of Organic Fruits and Vegetables.” (source)(source)
This study documents significant differences in favour of organically grown food and explains the different, yet basic farming system factors that lead to these differences. They concluded that increasing the amount of plant-available nitrogen, which is typically found in conventional farming, reduces the accumulation of (plant) defence related secondary metabolites and vitamin C, while the contents of secondary metabolites such as carotenes that are not involved in defense against disease and pests may increase.
They also found that secondary plant metabolite based nutrients in fruits and vegetables are 12 percent higher, on average, in organic food compared to conventionally grown food. Another group of nutrients that are composed of plant secondary metabolites that are involved in plant defenses against pests and response to stress were, on average, 16 percent higher.
“This subset encompasses most of the important, plant-based antioxidants that promote good health through multiple mechanisms.”
The team of researchers estimated that the consumption of organic fruits and vegetables is associated with a 12 percent higher nutrient level intake.
This is just one example of research conducted showing higher nutrient levels in organically grown food, and we are not even talking about pesticides yet.
One thing about organic food is that it’s not sprayed. A recent study conducted by researchers from RMIT university, published in the journal Environmental Research, found that an organic diet for just one week significantly reduced pesticide exposure in adults by 90 percent. (source)
Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in the School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Community and Environmental Health at Boise State university, recently published a pesticide exposure study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Results of her research indicated that among individuals eating similar amounts of vegetables and fruits, the ones who reported eating organic produce had significantly lower OP pesticide exposure than those who normally consume conventionally grown produce. You can read more about that here.
“The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We’ve gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before. The tobacco companies denied the link between smoking and cancer, and took decades to recognize the truth. The biotech and agrochemical corporations are the same as the tobacco industry; they lie and favor business over the health of the population.” – Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a paediatrician specializing in environmental health (source)(source)(source) (Related CE Article on the GMO/Cancer link in Argentina here)
The list literally goes on and on, the pesticides that are sprayed on our food have been linked to a variety of diseases, and high risk pesticides rarely appear as residues in organic food, and when they do, the levels are usually much lower than those found in conventional foods -especially the levels in imported produce. (source)
“I recently completed an assessment of relative pesticide health risks from residues in six important fruits – strawberries, apples, grapes, blueberries, pears, and peaches. Using the latest data from USDA’s Pesticide Data Program (USDA, 2012) on these foods, I found that the overall pesticide risk level in the conventional brands was 17.5-times higher than the organic brands. The differences translate into a 94 percent reduction in health risk from the selection of organic brands.” – Charles Benbrook, research professor and program leader for Measure to Manage (M2M): Far and Food Diagnostics for Sustainability and Health at Washington State University, from his letter that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (source)
This is very clinically significant, and this is why more and more people are starting to be concerned about pesticide related health risks.
The work of Chensheng (Alex) Lu, from the Harvard School of public health is well known. He has shown that when school-age children switch to a predominately organic diet, exposures to organophosphate (OP) insecticides are almost completely eliminated. (source)
“Children today are sicker than they were a generation ago. From childhood cancers to autism, birth defects and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Our assessment of the latest science leaves little room for doubt; pesticides are one key driver of this sobering trend.” October 2012 report by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) (source)(source)
Organic Versus Conventional If You’re Pregnant
“How could we have ever believed that it was a good idea to grow our food with poisons?…As part of the process, they portrayed the various concerns as merely the ignorant opinions of misinformed individuals –and derided them as not only unscientific, but anti-science. They then set to work to convince the public and government officials, through the dissemination of false information, that there was an overwhelming expert consensus, based on solid evidence, that GMOs were safe” – Jane Goodall
Now, take all of the information above (which is just a fraction of what’s out there), and think about a woman who is pregnant. GMOs (and the pesticides that go with them) are fairly young. They’ve only been around since the late 1990’s, and the children born when the emergence of GMOs was just starting are now growing up. We have yet to see the long term effects, and it’s scary to consider that no long term studies have been cited by major government organizations confirming the long term consumption of GMO foods. Just like geneticist David Suzuki said, “by slipping it into our food without our knowledge, without any indication that there are genetically modified organisms in our food, we are now unwittingly part of a massive experiment.”
The only long term study that’s been conducted was done independently, obviously away from industry sponsorship. It was published in Environmental Sciences Europe last year, and found GMO maize, along with roundup herbicide exposure led to cancer, liver/kidney damage as well as severe hormonal disruption. Roundup ready is sprayed on GM crops that have been engineered to resist it.(source)
The active ingredient in roundup is Glyphosate, which was recently linked to cancer by the World Health Organization (source).
Pesticides sprayed on our food have also been linked to birth defects. (source) A paper published in the journal Pediatrics found that prenatal exposure to some of the pesticides sprayed on our food could impair the anthropometric development of the fetus, reducing the birth weight, length, and head circumference. (source)
There are a number of studies that have examined pesticide induced diseases when it comes to the fetus. You can view some of them here.
Numerous studies have linked agricultural pesticides to autism. You can find those studies here.
Canadian research has also identified the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, fetal, and non pregnant woman’s blood. They also found the presence of Monsanto’s Bt toxin. The study was published in the Journal Reproductive Toxicology in 2011. (source)
The study concluded, apart from pesticides, that Monsanto’s Bt toxins are clearly detectable and appear to cross the placenta to the fetus. The study pointed out that the fetus is considered to be highly susceptible to the adverse affects of xenobiotics (foreign chemical substances found within an organism that is not naturally produced). This is why the study emphasized knowing more about GMOs is crucial, because environmental agents could disrupt the biological events that are required to ensure normal growth and development.
Affording Organic Food
I believe if you can afford to eat conventional food, you can afford a wide variety of organic food. If you don’t believe me, try adding up what you spend in a month on conventional fruits and vegetables. Then switch to organic (only fruits and vegetables) and see what you spend in a month. If you’ll do that, you’ll notice no significant difference.
Cut out most of the junk food in your life, and try it with all of your food, and you still probably won’t. That being said, the way the system is set up to make organic food more expensive is ridiculous.
As far as feeding the world, what we throw away could do that. The money we spend on war in a couple of years could do that, and we are being told that GMOs do that when they actually don’t?
Sustainable agricultural practices could be set up all over the world. GMO farming is not really sustainable and this has been demonstrated time and time again. One example is in India, where Monsanto’s insect-repellent Bt cotton wreaked havoc on the country’s farmers. Those seeds cost twice as much as conventional ones and required greater inputs of water and expensive herbicides and pesticides. As a result, thousands of Indian farmers committed suicide.
The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that GM crops are not guaranteed, as promised by company advertising. They still fail to produce promised yields, and farmers are not permitted to save seeds due to the company’s patent. As a result, entire communities can be pushed to the brink of starvation.
Every person on the planet can feed themselves with just 100 square feet of well managed land. In 2008, the UN Conference of Trade and development supported organics, saying that organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and is more likely to be sustainable in the long term. You can read that full report HERE.