Look for these seals, for programs with strong standards for reducing pesticide use:

Consumers looking for foods produced with limited or no use of pesticides should look for one of these meaningful labels:

USDA Organic

USDA Organic standards technically prohibit synthetic materials, including synthetic pesticides. Some exemptions to this prohibition are allowed, if the materials undergo a review and approval process and meet certain criteria outlined in the law. Organic standards require ecologically sustainable farming practices including crop rotation, use of cover crops, and non-chemical pest control. 

  • There are currently no synthetic herbicides approved for use on organic food crops.
  • All neonicotinoid pesticides are prohibited on organic farms.
  • The herbicide glyphosate is prohibited on organic farms.
  • All organophosphate pesticides are prohibited on organic farms.
  • Only ten synthetic insecticides are approved for use on organic farms. Some can be used only if they do not come into direct contact with soil or crops (e.g., as bait traps). 
  • The herbicide atrazine is prohibited on organic farms. 
  • Synthetic soil fumigants are prohibited on organic farms.
  • Biodiversity is richer in organic farm fields than conventional ones. 
  • Children who eat organic fruits and vegetables have fewer pesticide residues in their bodies compared with children who eat conventional fruits and vegetables.

Read more about USDA Organic.

Demeter Biodynamic

To be Demeter Biodynamic certified, a farm must meet all the requirements of the USDA’s National Organic Program, in addition to the more rigorous Demeter standards. Demeter Biodynamic standards prohibit farmers from using toxic synthetic pesticides. Like the organic standards, the Demeter Biodynamic standards require ecologically sustainable farming practices including crop rotation, use of cover crops, and non-chemical pest control. 

Read more about Demeter Biodynamic.

 

Don't rely on these claims:

Natural

Nearly two-thirds of consumers (63 percent) think that the “natural” claim on a food label means the product contains no pesticides.[E page 6] However, the FDA has no regulatory definition for the “natural” claim on food, and the claim does not mean that the crops were grown without pesticides.

Read our natural review.

 

What this claim means

Every year, the agricultural sector uses nearly 900 million pounds of pesticides, which include the active ingredients of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, fumigants, sulfur, and oil.

“Pesticide” is a general term for products that control living organisms that are considered pests. Pesticides can target insects (insecticides), plants (herbicides), fungi (fungicides), or other types of pests.

When people think of pesticides applied to crops, they probably picture an airplane flying over a farm field, or a truck driving through an orchard, spraying pesticides on the crops while they are growing. But many pesticides are applied to seeds, soil, and crops before and after the actual growing period.

For example, on some fruits and vegetables, one-third to one-half of the residues are from pesticides that were not applied in the fields or orchards but in storage.

Some pesticides applied in storage target insects, but others are used to lengthen the shelf life of the produce. For example, many types of fruit, such as oranges and peaches, are treated with a fungicide to inhibit mold. Chemicals can also be applied to vegetables after harvest to prevent sprouting.

In the case of seeds, fungicides may be applied during storage to prevent molding, or the seeds may be individually coated in pesticides as a prophylactic pest treatment. Additionally, pesticides in the form of gas, known as fumigants, are often injected into the soil prior to planting to sterilize the fields from subterranean pests.

 

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Why it matters

Can you trust the claim? Is it verified?

No. On its own, a “pesticide free” claim is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has no regulatory definition for it. Producers making a “pesticide free” claim are not required to have this claim verified through on-farm inspections or residue testing.

 

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