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Vintage California Cuisine: 300 Recipes from the First Cookbooks Published in the Golden State


September 1997

How Reliable Are Claims About Purity of Organic Crops?

Are "organic" crops really free of pesticides? The fact is, they don't have to be to qualify as organic. The atmosphere in farming areas can carry enough pesticide residue to taint organically grown crops miles away from any spraying. For that reason, produce can still be sold as organic even with faint traces of pesticides, as long as the residue level is less than 10 percent of the allowable limits for conventional produce.

Another fact: most produce -- organic or otherwise -- has no detectable level of pesticide, according to a yearly residue testing program run by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The program involves tests of from 4,000 to 6,000 samples purchased at wholesale warehouses and retailers each year. In 1989, the department began adding several hundred organic samples to the residue testing program. From 1989 to 1994, a total of 763 organic samples were tested and 97 percent of the organic samples had no detectable residue. Twenty-one of the organic samples, or 2.8 percent, had faint traces of pesticide residue that was below the 10 percent threshold. Only two of the samples turned up with traces of residue that were illegal for organic produce.

In tests on more than 26,000 samples of conventionally grown produce between 1989 and 1994, nearly three-quarters were pristine, with no detectable pesticide residue. One quarter of the samples had residue within legal limits. Just under 1 percent had illegal levels of residue.

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef