Pesticides are used in many commercially grown fruit, vegetable, and grain crops to protect them from insects, weeds, fungi, diseases, mice, and other animals, bacteria, viruses, and mold. In the United States, pesticide use is very tightly regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By getting rid of disease sources, pesticides help keep the U.S. food supply safe. But many people question how safe pesticide chemicals are in the body. They worry about the pesticide residues found in some fruits and vegetables and in animal feed — which might end up in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. There's a real concern that these chemicals may cause health problems, including a possible rise in the risk of breast cancer.
So far, no research has shown that the very small amounts of pesticide residues found in produce increase the risk of breast cancer. The known benefits of eating a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains far outweigh the undefined risk of possible pesticide residues in these foods. But the question remains: What is the safest way to grow and prepare fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish so you get the most nutritional value and avoid any risks?
To reduce your exposure to pesticides, you might want to buy organically grown food or organically produced dairy products. You also might want to wash your produce with a commercial produce wash or spray — it may help remove some soil and pesticides.
It's unclear whether organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. The USDA makes no claims that it is. More research is needed to find out whether organic foods have more nutrients or are healthier compared to foods produced by traditional farming and production methods.
Food is produced in many different ways. Learn about:
Expert QuoteThe question of pesticides always comes up. I do agree with those who believe we derive more health benefits from eating fruits and vegetables with pesticides than from not eating fruits and vegetables. There are more than 200 studies in the scientific literature that clearly show decreased risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, with an increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. However, I consider the issue of pesticides and their potential harmful health effects an unanswered question. So, I have chosen to selectively eat organic fruits and vegetables.
Diana Dyer, M.S., R.D.