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Are you just eating chemicals and not real food?

Anyone can look at the ingredient list on a package of processed food and see the chemical additives listed for themselves. This is something that many people try to avoid or minimize, but simply buying fresh doesn't really help much; even well-washed produce contains residues of the herbicides and pesticides from the fields where they were grown.

Nor does paying more for organic produce get us away from chemical herbicides and pesticides. Organic farms use them too, they are just restricted to using naturally-based chemicals. This can work against the desire for fewer chemicals in our food, because the naturally-sourced chemicals are often not as effective as the man-made replacements, so they are often applied more heavily.

processed foods

For example, the two most commonly-used organic fungicides are copper and sulfur. In 1971, they were used at a rate of 4 and 34 pounds per acre treated, respectively. On the other side, the synthetic fungicides only needed 1.6 pounds per acre to be effective, less than half of the rate of the organic ones.

The campaign against GMO foods doesn't really help, either. One of the features of GMO crops that worries quite a few people is the alteration of the genome to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin, a pesticide. But Bt is one of the most popular organic pesticides on the market, so simply buying organic produce won't keep it from ending up on your dinner table.

organic farming

Now, don't get me wrong, here. I'm not saying that organic farming is bad, or that it doesn't have benefits. I'm just pointing out that some of the benefits that people think that they're getting from organic produce aren't really there at all.

This isn't really a problem, though. The Bt toxin that has so many people up in arms is has been used safely for years, and is destroyed during our digestive process. If there are any valid studies showing that eating food grown in fields that use Bt as a pesticide, I cannot find them.

A small percentage of people may have adverse reactions from being sprayed with it directly, but that's something that agricultural workers need to be careful of, it doesn't have any effect on consumers at all. Bt is derived from a bacteria that lives in soil, so there's a fair chance that there's some in everyone's home garden, whether they put it there or not.

What makes something toxic isn't so much what it is, as the dose that we get. Everyone has heard that we're doing something healthy if we drink 8 glasses of water a day, but drinking too much pure, healthy water at once will destroy your electrolyte balance, making someone very ill, potentially killing them. And, of course, water is a chemical itself; dihydrogen monoxide. Everyone knows the chemical symbol for it, H2O.

Table salt is sodium chloride, with iodine added if it's iodized. The iodine is added because it's a necessary nutrient. Vitamin C is essential for health, and it's a chemical: ascorbic acid. When you get right down to it, there's nothing on your dinner plate that isn't a chemical compound.

Real food is more nutritious than over-processed food, and I advise being wary of too many additives, but the generalized worry about chemicals in our food is unfounded. It's a pity that fear-mongering pays as well as it does. I suspect that the worry is doing more harm to the health of people than the chemicals could ever do.