Cindy Burke is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy Organic and recipe writer for The Trans-Fat Solution.

Why I buy only organic apples

By
January 15, 2008

I haven’t knowingly eaten a non-organic apple in many years. I won’t even let my daughter eat apple slices from her school lunch service unless I’m assured they’re organic. That’s because, unless they’re certified organic, those shiny red and green apples are often riddled with detectable amounts of dangerous chemicals and pesticides.

If you read this blog, you’re aware that there are some foods I’m willing to buy that are not organic. Apples, however, aren’t among them. Every year, a representative sample of random non-organic apples from retail outlets across the country are washed, cored, and peeled, then tested for pesticide residues by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Their Pesticide Data Program (PDP) stores the results in a large database that is publicly reported. Year after year, apples are consistently in the USDA’s top-10 list of the most contaminated fruits. Even after being washed, cored, and peeled, an average conventionally grown apple contains detectable residue from 4 to 10 different pesticides known or suspected to cause nervous-system damage, cancer, and hormone interference.

Chew on that before you take a bite of that pretty non-organic apple.

Why are so many pesticides sprayed on apples? Apples are vulnerable to a number of insects and larvae that burrow into the sweet juicy fruit and destroy it. To fight pests, non-organic apples are sprayed with insecticides several times during the growth season, and are often sprayed after harvest with fungicides or petroleum sprays. Pesticides banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of their extreme toxicity, or pesticides that are almost banned, are still found annually on apple samples tested by the USDA.

Our advice? Always buy organic apples.

That’s why non-organic apples scare me. They recently became even scarier because during 2007, the EPA quietly reauthorized the use of a previously banned pesticide called chlorpyrifos, a known neurotoxin and carcinogen, for use on apple crops. In response, a group of farm workers and advocates filed a lawsuit to force the EPA to stop the use of chlorpyrifos for agricultural use.

Chlorpyrifos, marketed by the Dow Chemical Company, was also known by the brand name Dursban. Dursban was a commonly used household insecticide, primarily used as a garden pesticide and in flea collars, until tests showed it caused brain damage to animals. Because of its toxicity, the EPA banned chlorpyrifos for household use in 2000. At that time, the EPA acknowledged that children were particularly susceptible to ill effects from contact with this pesticide.

When the EPA issued the ban, the agency said farm workers who mix chlorpyrifos (known by the brand name Lorsban for agricultural use), or apply it to fruit orchards using backpack hose sprayers or open-cab tractors, faced a “potentially unacceptable level of risk.” At that time, the EPA also said it wanted to research how chlorpyrifos mist drifting from agricultural fields or brought in the home on work clothing could expose vulnerable children to this dangerous pesticide.

Advertisement
How to Cook Everything ad

When the agency reauthorized the spraying of chlorpyrifos on farms last year, it did so without resolving those concerns. The reauthorization is not only bad news for consumers, but very sad news for farm workers and their families, who suffer many ill effects from exposure to this carcinogenic neurotoxin.

While the use of chlorpyrifos has declined over the past 10 years, in part because of the recently reversed ban on its use, it is still one of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the U.S. The majority of non-organic apple farmers in my home state of Washington spray chlorpyrifos on their apple crops.

Given that apples are vulnerable to many pests, and organic growers are not allowed to use toxic pesticides on their crops, how do they produce viable apple crops? It takes a grower who cultivates biodiversity and natural predators, plus a lot of careful monitoring and hands-on involvement, to successfully grow organic apples. Organic apple growers spend a lot of time thinning out bad apples by hand and destroying them, which means lower overall crop yields per acre compared with conventional orchards.

Organic growers battle apple pests by using non-toxic sticky traps for insects. They may also enclose each fruit in a breathable bag to keep insects out, or seal growing apples in a cornstarch-based coating that repels pests. All of that hands-on labor can be expensive, which is one of the reasons that organic apples often cost more.

I strongly recommend that everyone avoid non-organic apples, particularly children and pregnant women. If you buy baby food, apple juice, or applesauce for your children, always choose organic. I think the price of organic apples is well worth the cost.

Subscribe
Comments
There are 7 comments on this item
Add a comment
1. by Joanna on Jan 15, 2008 at 9:53 AM PST

I don’t eat/buy non-organic carrots, because years ago the UK authorities found that the residues don’t affect most of the crop, but congregate in one single carrot. How on earth could you know which one it was??? Maybe things have changed since then (although I doubt it), but I’d rather not - and, anyway, nothing tastes better than an organic carrot from Riverford (I can’t grow my own because the soil is so heavy, but I’m going to try them in containers this year)

Thanks for all this about apples ...

Joanna

2. by slobhan on Jan 20, 2008 at 4:32 PM PST

Thank you for this reminder...I am diving into the subject of agriculture, pesticides, GM food, and all that scary stuff. I’m lucky to live where organic apples are plentiful at the market for much of the year.

3. by anonymous on Jan 20, 2008 at 9:08 PM PST

While in college I worked on an organic apple orchard for a few years. While I agree with many of your points, I found a few very misleading. First, all pesticides are toxic, this is why they work. (My farmer boss was the first to explain that to me, why I had to use the spray gear.)They may be more “natural” toxins but they are still toxins. Also, org orchard crops use A LOT of copper. Which is a heavy metal that accumulates in the soil. Organic can be important but knowing your producer I think is more so. I’ll buy a conventional apple from a grower if I know how he grows them before I’ll buy an anonymous organic one. Organic no longer (and never did) mean no spray, now it doesn’t even mean “nontoxic” sprays. Look for your self with pyganic spray, the label reads that it is toxic to bees, fish and amphibians not much unlike its conventional counterpart.

4. by anonymous on Jan 20, 2008 at 9:08 PM PST

While in college I worked on an organic apple orchard for a few years. While I agree with many of your points, I found a few very misleading. First, all pesticides are toxic, this is why they work. (My farmer boss was the first to explain that to me, why I had to use the spray gear.)They may be more “natural” toxins but they are still toxins. Also, org orchard crops use A LOT of copper. Which is a heavy metal that accumulates in the soil. Organic can be important but knowing your producer I think is more so. I’ll buy a conventional apple from a grower if I know how he grows them before I’ll buy an anonymous organic one. Organic no longer (and never did) mean no spray, now it doesn’t even mean “nontoxic” sprays. Look for your self with pyganic spray, the label reads that it is toxic to bees, fish and amphibians not much unlike its conventional counterpart.

5. by Tom on Jan 8, 2009 at 7:46 AM PST

DO NOT eat organic apples as they naturally contain carcinogenic toxins which are not killed without the use of pesticides. Organic food is fashionable hyped up garbage anyway.

6. by James Berry on Jan 8, 2009 at 8:37 AM PST

@Tom there’s a funny guy in every crowd, right? And people were dying in droves from cancer until pesticides came along and saved us from the apples? :)

7. by anonymous on Nov 2, 2011 at 1:41 PM PDT

organic growers ARE allowed to use toxic pesticides on their crops. The only difference is that those sprays are found in nature.

e.g. spinosad, copper, lime sulphur

Instead of buying “organic” apples in stores, I would find a local grower who grows spray free apples. Or better, if possible, have my own apple trees in the garden.

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [http://www.example.com "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer


Advertisement
Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Subscribe
Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer

Reviews

Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice