The emperor Diocletian did something that very very few rulers in history have ever done. After a long and successful reign he handed over to someone else and retired. He set up a palace and set about growing vegetables. Politics being what it is, before long there was a crisis and someone was sent to persuade him to come back into public life. His reply was “you wouldn’t even ask me if you could see the cabbages I have grown with my own hand.”
They must have been some cabbages.
Diocletian lived before pesticides were invented, so he could be sure that his cabbages were free of pesticides. Being an emperor he could also be pretty sure that they were free of pests as well. That after all was the kind of thing he kept all those slaves for. I am pretty sure if I could go back in time and offer Diocletian a slug spray or something to keep the caterpillars off his precious cabbages he would have not been in the slightest bit interested. His cabbages were already worth more to him than an entire empire. All that pesticides could do for him was save him a bit of labour – and in those days labour was very cheap indeed.
And it really isn’t that different today. Pesticides are basically a time saving device for farmers and processors. They don’t enhance the quality of the end product. Whatever your attitude to the environment and to the risks of modern life, there really is no reason to turn down organic fruit and veg if someone offers it to you for the same price as the conventional alternative. The pesticides are used for the producers benefit, not for yours.
But if you aren’t an emperor you probably have to make some kind of economic judgement. The extra cost of organic has to be borne by someone, and that someone is you. If the farmer needs to be more diligent to overcome pests then you are going to have to pay for that in higher prices for organic produce. There are a number of factors that come into play here, but lets just look at the question of pesticide residues. Non-organic products might well contain residues of chemical pesticides used to produce them.
Is this a problem? It could be, but you’d have to admit that it can’t be a big problem if it is. Organic food is a tiny proportion of the total food market and has only been available relatively recently. But life spans are increasing. If you go back to the era when all food was organic life spans were much shorter. Now it could be that other factors explain this and that had everyone eaten only organic food we’d all be living even longer. But so far as I am aware nobody has ever produced any data that proves organic food is safer than non-organic food.
Pesticides earned a reputation for causing environmental problems in the fifties and sixties. But lessons have been learned and practices have changed and so have the pesticides themselves. I think intervening in nature by introducing new chemicals into complex ecological systems is a dangerous business and one that needs continual care and attention. And there is always the risk that something completely unexpected will go wrong. Clearly pesticides are not doing any serious short term harm to humans. You just have to look around you. The biggest problem most of us have with our food is there is too much of it and it is too tempting. Any problems with the levels of pesticides that we are consuming can only be subtle ones that are hard to spot. Lets keep our eyes open for them. In the meantime, worrying about hypothetical problems is pointless.
If you are nonetheless ultra cautious, you might decide to play it safe in what you put on your skin. If so, the easiest way to avoid pesticide residues is use products that don’t have any natural ingredients in them in the first place. But if you want natural ingredients on your skin but still want to avoid agricultural pesticides you could go for organic personal products. This might take a bit more care because not many organic products are actually made from 100% organic ingredients. Most of the non-organic ingredients that are used are so highly processed that no pesticides will get through to the bottle on the shelf, so this isn’t that big an issue. But if your aim is total avoidance you should steer well clear of products that simply contain a few organic ingredients in an otherwise conventional base.
But realistically the levels of agricultural pesticides in any personal care product will be either zero or negligible. Basically, you are going to get so much more exposure to pesticides if you happen to drive past a sprayed field than you are likely to get from even a lifetime’s exposure to non-organic personal care. And the chances are even that isn’t going to do you any harm. I am sure you have more important things going on in your life to give your attention to.
But at the end of the day, the pesticides are as I say a benefit to the producer not the consumer. If you are an emperor you’ll be going for the organic option every time. And if you are well enough off that the organic premium is insignificant, why not.
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