A major improvement the health of the U.S. citizens could come from a relatively minor change in their dietary habits. According to an economic model developed at Purdue University designed to predict how U.S. farmers would respond to shifts in eating habits, if Americans simply ate fruits and vegetables at current USDA-recommended levels, U.S. farmers would respond by bringing nearly twice as much (88%) produce to market. This would both drive down their price and increase their accessibility, benefitting the health of millions.
Conversely, if meat and dairy consumption simply fell to the levels recommended by the Harvard University School of Public Health, farmers would grow less of the corn and grains they now use to feed livestock. This would help build healthier soil and diminish the environmental impact of animal waste.
A still more drastic improvement would come from finding ways to promote (and even subsidize if necessary) greater consumption of organic-certified fruits and vegetables. This would have a profound impact on the health of U.S. children. Research published in the peer-reviewed Journal Of Environmental Health Perspectives found that children who ate predominantly organic fruits and vegetables had much lower concentrations of certain pesticides in their system.
The study enrolled 40 children, 3-6 years old: 20 from an urban neighborhood in Oakland and 20 from the nearby agricultural Salinas Valley. Researchers swapped out non-organic for organic food in the children’s diets and measured the concentrations of pesticides in their urine. In both communities, the amount of pesticides, as measured by breakdown products (metabolites), plummeted after they switched to organic food. Metabolites of two neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides dropped by an average of 40 percent and 49 percent. Levels of the weedkiller 2,4-D, a possible carcinogen, dropped by 25 percent.
In addition to reducing the “pesticide burden,” studies show organic crops also have higher concentrations of antioxidants and lower levels of cadmium and nitrogen compounds than their non-organic counterparts.
Concerned parents might wish to consult The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce that includes the Dirty Dozen Plus list of non-organic produce with the highest pesticide loads. There is also a Clean Fifteen list of fruits and vegetables that are least likely to have pesticide residues.