San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nutrients Abound When Going Organic

P R O P O -NENTS of organicproducts, devoid ofchemical fertilizers,pesticides and hormones,often citetwo main reasonsfor their importance:health benefitsand environmentalprotection.Organic productshave higherquantities of vitaminsand minerals,including calcium, iron, Vitamin C andmagnesium, according to nutritionist ElsieFallas. They are also said to help preventillnesses such as cancer, osteoporosis,heart and circulatory system diseases.“If you eat an organic orange, for thesame price and the same amount of product,you’ll get more nutrients than from aconventionally grown one,” Fallas said,adding that an organic tomato contains 72miliequivalents of calcium per 100 grams,while a non-organic one holds only 33.Not only does pesticide-filled producecontain fewer nutrients than its organiccounterparts, but it also robs nutrientsfrom food, specifically calcium, she said.WHILE these argumentsmight suffice to convincesome to go organic,the most widely held criticismagainst pesticides,which are used mainly tokeep crops free of insects,fungus, birds, earthworms,mites and weeds, stemfrom a more polemicsource – the carcinogenicresidue they leave on fruitsand vegetables.Studies have shownthat children exposed to high levels ofagrochemicals are more at risk of sufferingbone, brain and blood cancer (leukemia).In the case of Costa Rica, research haslinked its elevated gastric cancer mortalityrate, the highest in the world, with the useof pesticides, many of which are banned inother countries.“The use of pesticides is not regulatedat all. There’s an improper and indiscriminateuse by farmers who want more abundantand larger crops,” said Fallas, whoadvocates for regulations on pesticideapplication. “In Costa Rica, we eat anexcess of chemicals.”According to the Costa Rican PublicHealth Ministry, in 1996, the country’sagrochemical consumption per capitaaveraged 6.5 kilograms, higher than inother Central American nations and aroundseven times the annual average per capitaworldwide.AGROCHEMICALS also provokereproductive problems, sterility and geneticmutations, a reality evidenced in the late1970s in thousands of Central Americanbanana plantation workers and their familieswere exposed to the toxic Nemagonpesticide.Washing fruits and vegetables withwater only eliminates a small part of thechemical residue.“Some agrochemicals are soluble, butnot all,” Fallas said.Organic meat has also been found topose a smaller cancer risk than regularmeat. The former contains lesser amountsof vein-and-artery-clogging fat and fewerhormones. Not surprisingly, just like thebody, the environment also suffers detrimentaleffects from agrochemical residue.PESTICIDES have undoubtedlyharmed birds and animals and contaminatedthe world’s food supply, according toRachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring,”a book that exposed the hazards of the pesticideDDT.When agrochemicals are applied, theydo not always come into direct contactwith the pests or foliage they intend toattack. Most drift through the atmospherefor miles, pollute the air, seep into theground and wash into bodies of water. Theresults are years of contaminated undergroundand surface water, degraded soiland toxicity in numerous living creatures,including birds, fish, insects, and smallaquatic organisms.In Costa Rica, the high dependenceand increasing importation of agrochemicalsin the last decades represent a consumptionof nearly 18 kilograms (40pounds) of active ingredient per hectarecultivated, according to a report from theUnited Nations Environment Program.The Caribbean coast, which usesaround 40% of the totalamount of pesticidesimported into the country,has generated concernamong environmentaliststhere because of the threatsto its varied and vitalwildlife habitats.The dumping anddrainage of agrochemicalsused by the area’s bananaplantations on the fringeof La Estrella River,which releases into the seanearby, has led to the presence of toxicchemicals in marine organisms and thehigh deterioration of coral reefs inCahuita National Park, according to theCosta Rican Ecological Movement andthe Bogantes Foundation’s 1992 presentationon La Estrella River before theInternational Water Tribunal.ANOTHER area with documentedchemical consequences is the southernPacific region, where 6,000 hectares(14,826 acres) of land have been degradedby the accumulation of fungicides thatcontain copper, according to the government’sNational Development Plan for1998-2002.Overall, as the impact of agrochemicalson human health and environmentgradually continues to come to lightworldwide, heated debate on the topic willlikely continue. Chemical manufacturerswill fight to protect the lifespan of theirproducts and growing numbers of conscientiouspopulations will push for bans onlife-threatening pesticides.Historically, governments have reactedslowly to outlawing pesticides and usuallyonly after their disastrous and irreversibleaftereffects have taken toll.Plus, while one nation at a time mayclose the sale of specific pesticides withinits borders, the manufacturers simply seekout other unrestricted markets, as is thecase with U.S. chemical companies, whichexport to developing nations.

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