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Myth: Organic foods don’t contain pesticides

Ladybugs: natural enemies of insect pests. You’ll pay about $20 for 1,500 of them online. The only problem: they disperse when released into gardens.

TRUTH: Organic foods contain organic pesticides – an important distinction but pesticides nonetheless.  The organic pesticides on the market are made from naturally occurring substances rather than lab-manufactured chemicals.

On a small scale, some home gardeners use spray bottles with mixtures of oil and soap, orange peel-castile soap, garlic-pepper, or nicotine solutions.  Large-scale organic farms have historically used some organic pesticides that are now banned because of the environmental damage they cause.  One such insecticide is Rotenone – a “broad spectrum” insecticide (meaning that it kills beneficial insects as well as crop-eating ones).

Since natural insecticides and pesticides are weaker than their conventional counterparts, large-scale operations often apply them more frequently.  Many experts believe that some organic pesticides are just as damaging as the synthetic ones!  And, the organic pesticides often have to be used multiple times to be effective (because they’re less potent).

The other half (those in support of organic pesticide use) argue that it is unlikely that organic farmers will overuse organic pesticides because they’re simply too expensive.  In my opinion, that’s a terrible reason to support their use!  Basically, pesticide proponents are saying “well, these pesticides aren’t quite as dangerous and farmers will probably use less because they’re so costly.  Let’s bank on that.”

BOTTOM LINE:  Of the organic pesticides currently available, the riskiness is not comparable to the synthetics.  However, even some of the natural pesticides, like sulfur, cause skin rashes and can damage the environment.

Rather than focusing on eliminating pests, we should focus on preventing them in the first place.  Diversifying plants, using beneficial insects, or using barriers and traps can help pest problems.  Just because your food is organic, doesn’t mean that, water, tender love, and care are the only ingredients.



  1. Organic Essentials Pocket Guide for Reducing Pesticide Dietary Exposure
  2. Washington State University: The Garden Professors Blog
  3. New Jersey State’s Alternatives to Pesticides

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