Pesticides

Like the word "chemical," the word "pesticide" has been hijacked and then unfairly demonized.

Scientists use the word pesticide to refer to "any chemical, generally used in an agricultural setting, that can be used to kill another unwanted organism." Pesticides can be natural or synthetic, and they can be used to kill plants (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungi (fungicides), or rodents (rodenticides).

Society uses the word pesticide pejoratively, assuming that anything that can kill another organism can also kill humans. This is almost never true. It is biologically impossible for some pesticides, such as Bt toxin, to harm humans....

Two weeks ago, we reported on a bizarre decision by the online news arm of the journal Science: The outlet had reprinted an article from a politically slanted environmentalist website that hyped concern over a particular chemical. The article fell quite short of the high standards we associate with the journal.

Now, Live Science has done something similar, but it's far worse. Normally a reliable source of information (and an outlet with which ACSH has a reprinting agreement), Live Science published an article that is a dream for anti-pesticide and anti-chemical fearmongers.

The...

One of the problems with science communication is that we are always a day or two behind the mass media. The general pattern is this:

  1. Bad research is published or a crazy person makes a crazy claim.
  2. The mass media gets a hold of it, and broadcasts it all over the world.
  3. Sane people are alerted to this nonsense, who then have to craft an evidence-based response. That takes a substantial amount of time and effort and, as a result, a lie circles the globe before the truth gets its shoes on.

A preemptive solution is ideal. Science communicators should hunt down kooky conspiracies, then take them behind the barn and shoot them before they have the opportunity to gain a substantial following. But here's the catch: How does one identify which...

The Environmental Working Group has once again released their Dirty Dozen list — the fruits and veggies they say are covered in pesticides. One minor detail: organic produce contains pesticides, too, but that doesn't quite fit their narrative.

NYT's Nicholas Kristof sure knows how to live harder, not smarter. He's been avoiding chemicals and living clean — as he puts it — for several years. And yet, the results from an at-home detox kit that tested his urine for chemical exposure came back less than stellar. 

Several years ago, during a layover in Copenhagen's airport, I struck up a conversation with an elderly British couple. The husband told me about growing up in the United Kingdom during World War II, when the British had implemented food rationing.

He recalls complaining to his mother that he didn't like the food they had to eat. She responded, in that "keep calm and carry on" manner that is so very British, "You don't have to like it. You just have to eat it."

Things have changed since then, not just in Britain but throughout Europe and in the United States. We now have so much food that we have the luxury of condemning most of it as impure or unhealthy. People can afford to pay a hefty premium at fancy outlets like Whole Foods (...

When studies are published in major journals one assumes that study adds value to scientific knowledge - sadly this is not always the case.  One such study, recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, revealed an association between high pesticide exposure and decreased pregnancies and live births in women participating in fertility treatments.

The data included 325 women, from 2006 onward, undergoing fertility treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital as part of Environment and Reproductive Health Study (EARTH).  Women were asked to fill out dietary questionnaires to determine their dietary patterns prior to initiating assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

The women...

The word pesticide is misunderstood, nearly to the same extent as the word chemical. People have been led to believe, largely by the organic food industry and environmental activists, that pesticides are unnatural, dangerous, and do not belong in the food supply. But this defies a basic understanding of biology.

A pesticide is any chemical, natural or human-made, that is designed to kill another organism.

Using that broad definition, there are probably hundreds of thousands of pesticides in the natural environment. As it turns out, biological warfare was invented and perfected by Mother Nature.

For example, some bacteria and fungi produce antibiotics to kill other microbes. We don’t call these antibiotics “pesticides,” but that’s exactly what they...

Spring is just around the corner, and with it comes another growing season. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower calorie intake; reduce risks for heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes; and protect against certain cancers.

With all these benefits, why do some consumers choose to avoid produce? Approximately three-quarters of people in the U.S. don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

A lot of factors could explain the shortfall, including fear. Media stories about topics such as GMOs and pesticides may convince some consumers that it’s not safe to eat certain fruits and vegetables. There’s no question that negative news...

It's that time of year again. Flowers are beginning to bloom, trees are turning green, the birds are chirping a little louder ... and the Environmental Working Group is scaring you about perfectly safe and healthy food. 

Once again, the EWG has released its annual "Dirty Dozen," a list of fresh produce found in grocery stores all over America that EWG thinks is killing you1. And like obliging lap dogs, the media -- as always, without fail, every single year -- reported the results of the "study" without even the slightest shred of criticism or critical thinking.

So, what is killing us this year? Strawberries are #1. Spinach is #2. Spinach! The upside is that if you're the sort of person who doesn't like spinach, now you can point to some pseudoscience that...