STANDISH — Avery Yale Kamila’s article (“Chemical concerns should steer families toward organic food,” Oct. 5) contains more inaccuracies than your average store-bought celery contains “synthetic pesticides.”

People interested in the realities of pesticides exposure should avoid the column. It sullies the reputations of Maine farmers.

Understanding the risks of pesticides requires a grasp of a central tenet of toxicology: exposure. That is exactly the issue Kamila ignores.

Exposure, or dose, is not complicated. If one suffers a headache and the label on the bottle of acetaminophen recommends taking 1,000 milligrams, but one takes only 1 milligram, one’s headache persists. If, on the other hand, one takes the whole bottle, one’s liver is toast.

Outside of the issue of dose, Kamila’s references to “pesticides sprayed on . . . foods,” “pesticide-drenched” crops, and even “pesticide residues” in children’s urine are emotive nonsense.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets tolerances for all such substances found on foods, and these tolerances are orders of magnitude below the levels that cause toxic effects in laboratory animals. That means hundreds, even thousands of times less than doses that cause effects.

It’s no surprise, though, that an associate of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association would believe that micrograms of pesticide residues would cause “significant human disease.” MOFGA advocates the use of homeopathic “remedies,” whereby substances diluted to the point of being undetectable are reputed to have “healing” properties.

Kamila also ignores the widely different toxicological profiles of each chemical. Possible harm caused by one chemical implies nothing about another. Organophosphates have different effects than pyrethroids. So Kamila’s continual use of the word “pesticides” as an all-purpose indictment is like saying “people” cause violence.

Here’s a description of the acute effects of a chemical from the Extension Toxicological Network (EXTOXNET): “. . . burning pain in the chest and abdomen, intense nausea, repeated vomiting, diarrhea, headache, sweating, shock, discontinued urination leading to yellowing of the skin. Injury to the brain, liver, kidneys, and stomach and intestinal linings may also occur. . . .”

Kamila wouldn’t want this in her “unborn baby’s blood stream.” Yet this is the profile for the organically-approved pesticide copper sulfate!

Such hypocrisy is perhaps the most galling thing about Kamila’s article. She makes a lot of bold claims about “synthetic pesticides” while providing only a parenthetical reference to the fact that organic farmers use pesticides.

Here are the effects of a different pesticide from EXTOXNET: “Symptoms of . . . poisoning include stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting, rapid and difficult respiration, and death.”

Kamila might advise pregnant mothers to avoid consuming these glycoalkaloids, which have an action identical to organophosphate insecticides. Yet they are found naturally in potatoes and tomatoes.

Yes, food contains natural toxins — pesticides, even — that have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, and tumors in animals. In fact, as the molecular biologist Dr. Bruce Ames tells us, “Americans eat about 1.5 grams of natural pesticides per person per day, which is about 10,000 times more than they eat of synthetic pesticide residues.”

Kamila uses figures without context. While it’s awful that “between 10,000 and 20,000 people (are) treated for pesticide poisoning annually,” how many of these are attempted suicides? How many accidents?

By comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 47.8 million Americans suffer illness from food-borne pathogens annually, of which over 3,000 die. The National Pesticides Information Center reported one pesticides-related death in 2010.

To bolster her view, Kamila cites the Environmental Working Group’s egregious “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables alleged to be “contaminated” with pesticides.

Agricultural scientist Dr. Steve Savage has performed a thorough take-down of the EWG’s methods by actually doing the math. He found that of the pesticide residues found on the much-maligned celery, 95 percent are less toxic than caffeine and 67 percent less toxic than table salt.

Savage’s conclusion: In the service of the organics industry, the EWG “attack(s) growers who don’t deserve this sort of smear campaign.”

As a small grower myself — one licensed by the Board of Pesticides Control — I thoroughly resent Kamila’s implication that non-organically certified farmers are poisoning the children of Maine.

Special to The Press Herald