The Organic Effect, a project of the Swedish Environmental Research Institute and commissioned by Swedish supermarket chain Coop, studied pesticide accumulation in one Swedish family. The family of five, who did not typically eat organic food, ate exclusively conventional food for a week followed by exclusively organic food for two weeks. Researchers tested their urine for pesticides during the experiment, and the results were dramatic: the conventional diet left significant pesticide residue in their bodies, but by the end of the two weeks eating organic, the pesticides were almost completely gone.
While researchers admit that the pesticide levels found in the family when eating conventional food were still within the acceptable daily intake levels by a good margin, they’re concerned about what is known as the cocktail effect. Currently, the health risks of chemicals are only tested individually, with no way of testing what happens when chemicals combine. The participants in the study had combinations of eight different pesticides in their systems, and chemicals can be much more harmful when combined than they are on their own.
The study demonstrated that choosing organic food reduces both the occurrence and number of pesticides in the body. On average, the concentration of pesticides when the family ate the conventional diet was nine times greater than when they ate the organic diet.
“When you hear this, you think about your children,” said Anette, the mother in the family of five. “There were a whole number of chemicals removed from my kids’ bodies, and I don’t want them back.” The three children in the study had an even more dramatic reduction in pesticide levels than the adults, with an average of 12 times greater concentration of pesticides when eating conventional food. The youngest child, a three-year old boy, had 27 times more pesticides in his system when eating the conventional diet.
“We know very little about the long-term effects of eating food treated with pesticides,” said one of the researchers in a short film about the study. Until those long-term effects are determined, Coop hopes that this study will start a discussion about our agriculture system and inspire more people to choose organic.