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  • Did You Know?
    Three new studies confirm that exposures to common insecticides during pregnancy can cut a child’s IQ 4% to 7%  by age 9.
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Jörgen Magnér: Reducing Pesticide Exposure

May 13, 2015

Watch the Coop video “The Organic Effect” about Magnér’s research showing that eating organic reduces exposure to pesticides


What was the motivation behind this study?

Jorgen_Magner_IVLThis study looked at whether a switch from conventional to organic foods can provide a measurable effect on the level of plant protection products in the body. We were interested in this, because a compilation from several studies made by Lund University shows that pesticides are more prevalent in conventionally grown food than organically grown food. Unlike for conventional crops, synthetic pesticides are not allowed for use on organic crops. A study of urine samples from 100 people in Skåne, Sweden, showed higher levels of pesticides in people who eat conventional as opposed to organic produce. Another study showed that children who eat organically grown food have less exposure to pesticides, and, just last year, a study showed that the levels of organophosphate-based plant protection products decreased by 89% in 13 adults after eating organic food for one week. We wanted to know how those pesticide residues translated into human exposure, so we looked at how an organic intervention would affect the pesticide exposure in an average family.


Would you summarize the most important findings of your study?

We found that, on average, a change in diet from conventional food to organic food resulted in a 9.5-fold decrease in pesticide levels found in family Graphmembers’ urine. One thing that was interesting about our findings was that the decrease in pesticide levels was greater for children than adults. Children had a decrease in exposure by a factor of 12, while parents had a decrease in exposure by a factor of 9. Both of these are large-scale reductions, but children seem to benefit by a larger effect than adults when it comes to avoiding pesticides. Here is a graph of the decrease in pesticide detection for the son, age 3. You can see that during the period where he was fed organic food (period 2), there is a dramatic reduction in pesticide exposure.

What kind of pesticides did you find that the family was being exposed to?

When they were eating conventional foods, the family was exposed to a wide variety of pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and Lab2growth inhibitory agents. The pesticides that were reduced the most when switching to an organic diet were 3,5-DCA (a fungicide metabolite), chlormequat chloride (a growth inhibitor), and 3-PBA (an insecticide metabolite). 3,5 DCA is a metabolite from several different types of fungicides, such as iprodione, vinclozolin, and procymidone, used in the cultivation of fruit and vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, and grapes. Chlormequat chloride is a growth inhibitor used in the cultivation of grain as a straw-shortening agent so that the grain remains upright. 3-PBA is a degradation product of several pyrethroids used as insecticides. It has been linked to a high intake of conventional fruit and berries, and is suspected to have endocrine-disrupting effects.

How were the family members exposed to these pesticides?

CharlieFamily members were mainly exposed to these pesticides through the consumption of conventional foods. When the family members switched to consuming organic food, the level of their pesticide exposure dropped dramatically.

What did you find most surprising about your results?

It was surprising how quickly the pesticides left the family members’ bodies after they stopped consuming conventional food. Once they switched to organic products, the change we observed was almost immediate, with differences being noticeable within the first day of the study. It would be interesting to conduct a long-term study examining a wider range of chemicals to see how long-term consumption of organic products affects chemical exposure in the population.  We would also like to conduct a larger study with more participants in order to increase the statistical data in the study.

How did the family react when you told them the results of the study?

Familjen_PalmbergThey were surprised, and all agreed that they didn’t want to have the chemicals back in their bodies!

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