Are Organic Fruits And Vegetables Really That Safe And Healthy?

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

By Yip See Chung

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales in the United States have increased by a record of 12.8% in 2020, reaching a new high of $56.4 billion. With more than 15% of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States being organic, fresh organic produce sales grew almost 11% in 2020 to $18.2 billion, and the sales of frozen organic fruits and vegetables increased more than 28%.1

A similar trend is observed in the Asia region.

According to Ecovia Intelligence, the global organic food and drink market is growing by 8 to 10% per annum. In particular, growth in the Asian market is occurring at a slightly faster rate, at around 15% per annum. The largest market in Asia is China, which has been showing a spike in demand for organic products for the last 10-15 years. Other countries like Japan, South Korea, India and Taiwan has also experienced an increase in the demand for organic food.

In the case of increasing retail distribution, this trend has resulted in organic food becoming widely available to Asian consumers, and it is now common for organic food to be actively marketed by many supermarkets and hypermarkets in Asian countries, including South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. The convenience of buying organic food from supermarkets has certainly boosted the popularity of organic food in Asia.2

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many changes to people lives with many choosing to eat at home with their families and often cooking three meals daily. Good and healthy food has never been more important and consumers have increasingly sought out the organic label. Organic purchases have skyrocketed as shoppers choose high-quality organic products to feed their families.

Do “organic” and “natural” mean the same thing?

No, “natural” and “organic” do not mean the same thing and they are not interchangeable terms.

In general, “natural” on a food label means that it has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and it does not refer to the methods or materials used to produce the food ingredients. Whereas, the term “organic” refers to the way agricultural products are grown and processed with regulations varying from country to country. In the U.S., organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, or bioengineered genes (GMOs).3

Pesticides are known to cause short-term acute health effects including rashes, dizziness and nausea as well as chronic adverse effects including birth defects and immunotoxicity that can occur in the longer term. However, some people are more vulnerable than others to the impacts of pesticide. Infants and young children are known to be more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of pesticides as well as farm workers and pesticide applicators as they receive greater exposure.4

Not all organic products are  pesticides-free

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization that analyzes the results of government pesticide testing in the U.S., below is the list of 12 “fruits and vegetables” produce in which pesticides are most commonly found.

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard and green mustards
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Peaches
  9. Pears
  10. Bell and hot peppers
  11. Celery
  12. Tomatoes

Testing for pesticides in fruits and vegetables

To help identify and test for pesticides in a variety of fruit and vegetable samples including the “Dirty Dozen” by EWG, our scientists have developed a quantitative method using the latest SCIEX ZenoTOF 7600 system powered by SCIEX OS software. The objective of the experiment is to compare the relative pesticide level between produce that was traditionally farmed (non-organic) and organic produce purchased from an organic grocer.

There is no definite correlation between the samples tested. The results presented below show some types of non-organic/traditionally-farmed produce contained higher pesticides than the organic samples, but alternatively, some of the organic produce is shown to contain higher pesticides than non-organic samples.5

Comparison of sum total concentration of pesticides detected in non-organic and organic produce

Learn more about the highly sensitive and quantitative analysis of pesticides in fruit and vegetable samples using the ZenoTOF 7600 system.

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