Is Non-Organic Food Full of Chemicals?

Recently, we launched a series of videos about GMOs, which spurred many questions. One question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was the differences between organic and non-organic food. One viewer asked, “Is non-organic food full of chemicals?”

To answer this question, we reached out to Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Chair and Professor of the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition, Iowa State University.

Dr. MacDonald said,

There is a widely held thought that conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are loaded with pesticide and herbicide (chemical) residue. This is simply not supported by facts. The FDA and USDA routinely monitor the food supply for chemical residues and post results on their websites.

There are substantial rules in place about how and when chemicals are used on foods, and they are meant to limit human exposure. All chemicals have a set safety limit that is defined by research on the effects the chemicals have on human systems. The reports show that these limits are almost never exceeded for food (the program surveys food taken from grocery stores all around the country – it is a huge study).

What may be surprising is that organic foods also contain chemical residues from organic-approved chemicals used in their production, or those accumulated from the environment (same as for conventional foods). The fact is this: we are exposed to chemicals all the time from the air and water, and in cars, houses and workplaces – and even in things like cosmetics. The amount of exposure from food residues is far less than all of these.

There is no evidence that things like cancer, infertility, ADHD, obesity or hypertension are related to chemical exposures from fruits and vegetables.Consumers are readily frightened by legitimate research stories where large doses of a chemical are shown to have some negative aspect on health (usually in animal research). The issue with those findings is that the dose amounts in the study are far greater than would be achieved by eating normal amounts of fruits and vegetables. When the studies are published, media and other groups oftentimes conclude that the chemicals are dangerous because they are present in food, but they aren’t paying attention to the amount of exposure that is normal and acceptable to consume. Scientists who study this always say that it’s not the presence or absence of a chemical, it’s the amount or dose present.

There is no doubt that chemicals can cause bad things in the body, and we continue to learn more about that, but the truth is that consuming more fruits and vegetables, from either organic or conventional processes, is a healthy choice. No one needs to feel that they should only consume organic foods to be ‘safe.’ We have the safest food supply in the world and there are many systems in place to ensure and monitor that safety.

For more information on pesticide residues, please check out the calculator on*

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*Best Food Facts is not affiliated with or the Alliance for Food and Farming. We just think the calculator is a great, fact-based resource that helps us understand how pesticide use impacts our food.