Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy

The Organic Center's New Dietary Risk Index

It is easier to reduce pesticide risk in food when you know where it lurks.

Our "Dietary Risk Index" confirms that organic foods deliver on a core promise - nearly eliminating pesticide dietary risks.


Understanding the scope - and location - of a problem is a key step in solving it. There are over 600 pesticides applied routinely to hundreds of different food crops, under widely different circumstances across millions of farm fields. But which applications pose dietary risks worth worrying about?

Are pesticide risks going up or down? What about imported food - riskier or safer? Which foods pose the greatest risks, and which the least? To what extent does organic farming reduce pesticide dietary risks?

We field questions like these on almost a daily basis. Avoiding pesticide risk remains the number one reason people switch to organic foods and beverages. It is natural that people want to know if organic foods are actually delivering higher margins of safety. Food companies ask us for help in identifying potential pesticide risk problems in their conventional supply chains. And critics of organic food and farming frequently claim, with essentially no supporting data, that organic food is as risky as conventional food, because organic farmers occasionally use pesticides approved for use on organic farms.

Fortunately, the nation has invested heavily over the last 20 years in generating the information needed to respond to these sorts of questions and claims. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has compiled a massive, high quality pesticide residue data set going back to 1991. It encompasses annual test results for the most important foods accounting for risks to infants and children.

Since passage of the historic Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has completed in depth dietary risk assessments of nearly all widely used pesticides. We draw on USDA's residue data and EPA's risk assessments in calculating the Center's "Dietary Risk Index" (DRI), a tool designed specifically to answer questions about pesticide dietary risk levels and trends.

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