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Scientist takes issue with no-pesticide-organic claim – in nice way

While it may come as a surprise, most writers don’t like getting mail pointing out their mistakes. But every once in a while someone does it in a way that makes you glad they took the time to write.

Adrianne Massey wrote to “correct the commonly held misconception that organic growers don’t use pesticides,” as stated in this space in the May 27 Delta Farm Press. (Dr. Massey is managing director, science and regulatory affairs, Biotechnology Industry Organization.)

“In my experience, most people are shocked to discover organic growers do use pest control chemicals – just not chemicals that were developed by people and don’t occur in nature,” she wrote “Because they are allowed to use ‘natural’ substances, often the toxicity value of the “allowed substances” is significantly greater than synthetic pesticides.”

(Example: They are allowed to use copper sulfate. “So they mislead about conventional ag AND organic ag.”)

Dr. Massey is well acquainted with claims organic producers make about pesticides in conventional agriculture. Much of her time is spent speaking to farm and consumer organizations and answering the GMO-bashing that seems to come from environmental activists on a daily basis.

She began her professional career as a biological sciences faculty member at North Carolina State University and then joined the North Carolina Biotechnology Center where she led the Center’s education, work-force training and public outreach programs. She has co-authored three textbooks on biotechnology and serves as science advisor for the weekly PBS series, Breakthrough.

She sent a link to a list of pest control chemicals approved for use in organic production systems, which can be found on the USDA National Organic Standards website:

She also sent links to articles: and discussing how misleading claims about no pesticides in organic food can be. In one, “Organic Pesticides: Not an Oxymoron,” which appeared on the NPR website, Maureen Langlois notes how a USDA report that nearly 20 percent of organic lettuce tested positive for pesticides piqued her interest.

Also of interest were her findings approved pesticides including pyrethrin, azadirachtin and spinosads are also considered toxic by EPA.

I don’t mind being told when I’m wrong; I wonder if organic activists feel the same.

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