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assorted fruits at the market

PCN’s Tainted 22: Organically preferred fruits and vegetables and why we prefer organic agriculture

From The PCN Board

In the Fall 2012 issue of An Ounce, we presented an article on organic food (Confused? Don’t be. Organic food IS better for you!). In this issue, we explain why it is better for the planet too, and why PCN opposes the use of pesticides in agriculture.

PCN supports using only the least-toxic pesticides and pest control strategies, as in organic farming, for a number of reasons that relate to human and environmental health, and agricultural sustainability.(1)

Personal Health

  • Pesticides used in industrial agriculture are known to contaminate foods and the environment. Many of these chemicals promote cancer (and other chronic diseases), through a range of mechanisms, including hormone (endocrine) disruption.(2)
  • Farm workers and those living in close proximity to farms that are sprayed with these pesticides, have the most to gain from foregoing pesticides in the fields. Farm workers have higher risks of cancers, including leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate.(3) In an Ontario study, women farm workers were almost three times more likely to develop breast cancer than non-farm workers.(4) Having worked on a farm previously increased the odds of developing breast cancer with subsequent workplace exposures.(5)
  • Organic foods are free of the antibiotics used in industrial agricultural feed as “growth enhancers.” Antibiotic use results in environmental and human exposures to these toxicants, and also promotes antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, that are now impacting human health.
  • Choosing organic means that you are avoiding genetically modified foods, with foreign proteins such as insecticide chemicals grown within the plant, and remnants of high doses of herbicides. These pesticides (insecticides and herbicides) pose risks of inflammation and endocrine disruption, leading to chronic diseases including cancer.
  • These foreign proteins have been found in blood of women and newborns.(6) Children’s health throughout life is affected by pesticides,(7) but children’s pesticide residues fall when they are fed only organic foods.(8)
  • Many organic foods, including less common “heritage” foods, are highly nutritious,(9) and taste great!

Environmental Health and Sustainability

  • Comparison of energy inputs is complex because organic agricultural methods are quite different from large, industrial agricultural practices.(10) Nevertheless, reviews indicate lower overall energy use / greenhouse gas output for organic farming, in part because fertilizers and pesticides are made of fossil fuels.(11)
  • Organic farming uses methods to preserve topsoil quality and quantity, and biodiversity, as well as seeds uniquely adapted to the local soil and climate. Long term sustainability of farming depends upon these approaches.(12)
  • Organic farms are typically more diversified and resilient in the face of less predictable weather. Worldwatch Institute analyses(13) have found that the answer to world hunger will not lie in massive agricultural enterprises; it will lie in diversified farms with modest if any chemical inputs, using seeds that are uniquely adapted to the local soils and climate, and practices that preserve clean water.

Foods Preferred Organic

Some fruits and vegetables tend to be more contaminated by pesticides than others. Prevent Cancer Now has reviewed recommendations from other organizations for buying organic produce. These lists are based on data from the US Food and Drug Agency, after the food was prepared for eating, such as typical washing or peeling. Our list includes fruits and vegetables with the highest frequencies and pesticides detected, as summarized by the Environmental Working Group in the US,(14) with an overlay of the toxicity of the pesticides, as analyzed by the Consumers Union.(15) We added corn because so much of it is now genetically modified. Corn is in many foods, in many forms.

So here is our list of foods, with the most frequent and the most toxic pesticide residues. Try to buy organic versions of these great fruits and veggies!

Get to know, and support your local farmers to produce great food in your area.

PCN’s TAINTED 22: Organically Preferred Fruits and Vegetables


The exposure that viticulture workers (the wine industry) experience was uncovered in a recent study in France (February 2013). The APAChe investigation analyzed the presence of agricultural pesticides in the hair of workers who do not directly handle pesticides but work in the vineyard, compared to that of nearby residents. Results demonstrated 11 times more pesticides residues on average among viticultural workers than the control group (6.6 pesticides found in average versus 0.6). More than 36% of the found molecules are suspected to be endocrine disruptors. More details can be found here.


  1. Jackson RJ, Minjares R, Naumoff KS, Shrimali BP, Martin LK. Agriculture Policy Is Health Policy. J Hunger Environ Nutr. 2009 Jul;4(3-4):393–408.
  2. Cooper K, Marshall L, Vanderlinden L, Ursitti F. Early Exposures to Hazardous Pollutants/Chemicals and Associations with Chronic Disease – A Scoping Review [Internet]. Canadian Environmental Law Association, Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Environmental Health Institute of Canada, for the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment; 2011 [cited 2011 Aug 15]. Available from:
  3. US National Cancer Institute. Agricultural Health Study [Internet]. [cited 2013 Feb 25]; Available from:
  4. Brophy JT, Keith MM, Gorey KM, Luginaah I, Laukkanen E, Hellyer D, et al. Occupation and Breast Cancer. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2006;1076(1):765–777.
  5. Brophy JT, Keith MM, Watterson A, Park R, Gilbertson M, Maticka-Tyndale E, et al. Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case–control study. Environmental Health. 2012 Nov 19;11(1):87.
  6. Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol. 2011 May;31(4):528–533.
  7. Pesticide Action Network. A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health & intelligence [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2012 Nov 10]. Available from:
  8. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE, Bavinger JC, Pearson M, Eschbach PJ, et al. Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2012 Sep 4;157(5):348–366.
  9. Brandt K, Leifert C, Sanderson R, Seal CJ. Agroecosystem Management and Nutritional Quality of Plant Foods: The Case of Organic Fruits and Vegetables. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences. 2011;30(1-2):177–197.
  10. Benbrook CM. Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. — the first sixteen years. Environmental Sciences Europe. 2012 Sep 28;24(1):24.
  11. Lynch DH, MacRae R, Martin RC. The Carbon and Global Warming Potential Impacts of Organic Farming: Does It Have a Significant Role in an Energy Constrained World? Sustainability. 2011 Jan 28;3(2):322–362.
  12. Horrigan L, Lawrence RS, Walker P. How sustainable agriculture can address the environmental and human health harms of industrial agriculture. Environ Health Perspect. 2002 May;110(5):445–456.
  13. Worldwatch Institute. Sustainable Agriculture Program [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2013 Feb 3]; Available from:
  14. Environmental Working Group. EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in ProduceTM [Internet]. 2012 Jun [cited 2012 Nov 18]; Available from:
  15. Consumers Union of US Inc. When to buy organic, Organic fruits and vegetables [Internet]. 2008 Sep [cited 2013 Feb 22]; Available from:

Published: March 5th, 2013