It used to be that an apple a day kept the doctor away. These days, not so much… According to the latest information from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), conventional apples have the highest rate of pesticide contamination (or their breakdown products) in 98% of the samples tested. In fact, there were 36 different pesticides found on one sample apple. And, think of how much apple juice, applesauce, and apple slices babies and young children typically ingest.

The Environmental Working Group, in their "Pesticides in Produce guide" ( rate apples as number two on the list of highest pesticide residues and peaches as number one. The next eight are as follows: sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, imported grapes, spinach and lettuce.

Why should you be concerned?

Pesticide manufacturers will tell you that there is no conclusive evidence that a specific pesticide can harm you. But, that's because they haven't tested the health effects of smaller doses, the way we are normally exposed. They also aren't considering the multiple exposures we get from all of the different things that we eat, drink, use in our homes, and receive from the outdoor environment. If pesticides, by their very nature, are intended to kill living organisms, does it make any sense to think that they won't impact us?

There are two reasons why it's so difficult to link human harm conclusively to toxic chemicals like pesticides.

First, most safety tests do not look at the low dose exposures to pesticide and chemical mixtures that we all experience. Since these low dose tests aren't done, chemical manufacturers claim safety because no one has demonstrated conclusively that any harm has occurred. Usually high dose studies are used to find the obvious toxic effects. Sadly, the manufacturers do not even seem to be aware that humans are more vulnerable at critical periods of development (such as in utero. See:, which science is finally starting to uncover. Just because someone doesn't believe, or want to believe, that pesticides and other toxic chemicals can harm them, doesn't mean that they don't. Ignorance does not protect us.

Second, it is nearly impossible to trace a health reaction to a specific chemical, since we are all contaminated with trace levels of literally hundreds of chemicals. Clearly there are certain chemicals, such as PCBs, mercury, dioxin and lead, which have been shown to have significant permanent adverse effects on learning, behavior, and development at low doses. (For more information on our chemical body burden, check out this site:

We do have people in our modern society who are like the canaries in the coal mine. People with multiple chemical sensitivities often demonstrate clear reactions to common household cleaning products, or perfume, paint, and any number of other chemical products. I think of all of us as rain barrels. Every time we are exposed to a toxic chemical, the (toxic) water level in our barrels rises. At some point, once the level reaches the top and the water overflows, we start to see significant health reactions. That's not to say that we don't see health effects when the barrel is only half full. Perhaps we don't realize what is causing those symptoms, nor does our doctor, and we take a pill or some other substance to make the symptoms go away. But, does it really go away? And, what if that symptom goes away for a while, but something else more irritating and debilitating takes it's place because we keep on eating the pesticide laden foods, or breathing the formaldehyde from our new carpets and pressed wood kitchen cabinets, or absorbing the chemicals from our deodorants and shampoos?

That's why looking at the whole picture makes so much sense to me. If we have the ability to control what we expose ourselves to-at least to some extent-doesn't it make sense to do that? Even if some day it's proven that toxic synthetic chemicals have no harmful effects on humans, then what have we lost? Nothing. However, if Scientists finally do the needed studies on low dose exposures of the myriad of chemicals in our everyday products and lives, and we find out how much they have altered our health, or our genetics, then what? By then it's too late to do much to reverse the damage.

Doesn't the Government regulate these toxic chemicals?

Very slowly. It seems to take forever to get a toxic chemical, or product off the market once it's been determined that it's unsafe. The Government was telling us that chemicals like DDT, dursban, and chlordane were safe right up until the day they banned them, according to the Environmental Working Group (

What to do?

· Choose local, organically grown produce, dairy and meat
· If not available, choose organically raised produce, dairy and meat, but look for another certifying label beyond the USDA. Some good ones are the California Organic Farmers Association, or Oregon Tilth, or one of the Northeast Organic Farming Association's (VT, MA, NH, NY, NJ, and CT).
· Grow your own organic food.
· Trade with neighboring organic farmers.
· Join a Community Supported Agriculture Group that raises organic produce

Be very wary of buying "organic" food at places like Walmart . A three month investigation foud that they were labeling non-organic food as organic, and selling brands, such as Horizon and Aurora Farms, which are on a boycott ( from the Organic Consumers Association for not really being organic. Those farms are more like conventional factory farms with a little bit of access to real grass. Also, as I understand it, they are purchasing "organic" products from China and other countries that have less stringent standards than we have here.

ALERT UPDATE from the Organic Consumers Association (6/23/2007): "Despite receiving more than ten thousand comments from consumers and family farmers opposing various aspects of a late May 2007 proposal, the USDA has approved an interim rule that will allow 38 new non-organic ingredients to be allowed in products bearing the "USDA Organic" seal.

The USDA's passage of this proposal has resulted in the following:

-Anheuser Busch will be allowed to sell its "Organic Wild Hops Beer" without using any organic hops at all.

-Sausages, brats, and breakfast links labeled as "USDA Organic" are now allowed to contain intestines from factory farmed animals raised on chemically grown feed, synthetic hormones, and antibiotics.

-Products labeled as "USDA Organic" and containing fish oil may contain toxins such as PCBs and mercury (note: non-organic fish oil products have this same risk, but despite the USDA ruling, it is against the National Organic Standards to allow such toxins in organic foods). "

New addition: A new study shows that organic food may be better for your heart than conventional. Read the article here:

Author's Bio: 

Amy Todisco is a recognized green living expert who is a pioneer in the field of green living. She's also a professional life coach who offers one-on-one telephone coaching and group teleclasses on a variety of green living topics ( . She's featured as an expert on the and former NPR radio host, Laurie Howell's, the She's the author of the new ebook, Organic Food On A Budget (