Organic Pesticide Food Labels?

When organic foods are produced using organic pesticides, should consumers be told so by means of labels?

Many people think “organic” means that no pesticides have been used, but strictly speaking that’s false. “Organic” actually means that no synthetic pesticides have been used. But “natural” pesticides are sometimes allowed. Some of those are chemicals/minerals like copper or sulfur. Others are plant extracts like pyrethrum and rotenone. Even more popular is the bacterial toxin Bt. (See Wikipedia here.) Nicotine is apparently sometimes used as an insecticide, though my reading of the U.S. standards, at least, suggests that nicotine is currently forbidden. (For more info, see this document from the Soil Association: Pest control.)

The fact that such organic-friendly pesticides are natural of course does not mean they’re safe. All are used because they are deadly to at least something. Some are also hazardous to the humans applying them, or to the environment. (Rotenone, for example, is apparently somewhat toxic to humans, and highly toxic to fish. And sulfur poses a risk to workers’ eyes). So I wouldn’t be surprised if there are consumers out there who would want to know if their food had been sprayed with substances like these.

So, has anyone ever suggested that foods raised through use of such organic pesticides be labeled? Now, I’m not suggesting there’s any actual risk to consumers. But then, people often ask for labels even when there’s no evidence of actual risk to consumers.

(See also this Business Ethics Blog entry, “Organic:” Not Synonymous With “Ethical”.)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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