How Does “Pesticide Residue Free” Sound?


Scs So this is interesting.  Scientific Certification Systems has a "pesticide residue free" certification program that either organic or non-organic growers can participate in. The idea is that no matter how you grow your food, as long as it's free of residues when it goes to market, it will be more appealing to people who, say, are concerned about possible links between pesticide exposure and ADHD or other such things.


The risk, of course, with all of these certifications is that it will be too much for the harried shopper to wade through.  What do these labels really mean, what do they really guarantee, etc. etc.

Now, in the case of SCS, I have some personal experience with them because I talked to them while they were developing the VeriFlora standard for flowers.  Navigating the line between "organic" and "sustainable" is never easy, but SCS has made a go at it with a number of products, from coffee to timber to flowers.

And now the latest news is that the "certified pesticide residue free" label can also include ornamental plants (see press release PDF here).  From the press release:

The expansion of this certification allows horticultural producers to assure their customers that their flowering and ornamental plants are of the highest quality and safe for their homes and gardens. …While consumers have long demanded safety certification for food products, they are now seeking transparency in other products that have traditionally brought pesticides into their homes. Buying Pesticide Free plants helps minimize the risk of exposing pets and family to harmful pesticides.

So what do we think?  Is this a good thing?  Are you more likely to buy, say, a ficus tree, a boxwood, a rose bush, or a poinsettia, if it comes with a "pesticide residue free" label?  When you're buying ornamental plants, do you think about organic at all?  And if you do–are you thinking about your own safety, or about the safety of the workers in the greenhouse, the river that runs behind the greenhouse, and the overall greater good?  Or both?



  1. anything to reduce the use of pesticides I would like…never thought about the ornamentals but like that as well and yes will look for that…for me, my friends who eat or walk thru my garden and for the greater god…

  2. This label says “its okay we use pesticides because we wash the product really well.”

    As if just because we don’t directly ingest those chemicals they don’t affect our environment.

  3. I love the idea – for both ornamentals and vegetables. And thanks for noting, at least implicitly, that “organic” does not mean “pesticide free” – that myth is way too prevalent.

  4. This sort of notification tells me “here is a plant that doesn’t require any spraying or chemical treatments to thrive”. Good to know.

    I would like to see private labs offer comprehensive testing at an affordable cost so that home gardeners like me could have soil or plant matter tested for all toxins. All I’ve been able to find is specific tests for specific chemicals. Plenty of homegardeners rant and rave about chemical pollution but they’ve never had their homegrown produce tested, they have no idea what could be lurking there.

  5. If you are only concerned about the pesticides you and your family ingest then the pesticide residue label will be appealing. However, I am concerned about the effects of pesticides on the planate and everything that inhabits it. So I feel it is just a marketing ploy to suck in the less informed.

  6. I prefer ornamentals which have not had pesticides used on them; if they can’t survive without them, I don’t want them.

  7. Pesticide Residue Free appears to be Newspeak from Orwell’s 1984. What is the standard for each pesticide? Who decides how much in not enough to matter? How many pesticides are they testing for? This sounds very much like way numerous companies are claiming that their products are “Green”. Ray Eckhart’s remarks are also simplistic. Healthy organic methods are far safer for the environment than chemical pesticides. Healthy organic methods would not use include use of copper or other toxic substances .

  8. Not something I considered before, but now I find myself looking askance at the Christmas Cacti I just brought home. What exactly do they need to apply to plants to make them grow and to stay healthy until I see them in the nursery ? Sounds like this certification means that as long as they wash the pesticides off, or use one that breaks down/dissipates before going to market, we are supposed to feel it’s safe to bring that plant into our home. Given that plants are basically living straws & will suck up pesticides that were rinsed into their soil – do they test the soil ? Or just the plant ?

  9. Amy,
    Don’t know what to think about this. WE like organic, Meg was an organic farmer(30 years ago) way before it was the in thing. I do know small farmers have a lot to deal with to be legally called organic. Most of the farmers market people I know grow organically but can’t call it organic without this expensive ordeal to be certified organic.

    I do know of an organic farmer that lost its organic certificate because of run off from a large scale greenhouse operation that moved in next door to them. They had to move the entire operation.

  10. I don’t want to know that the product is residue free…I want to know that no pesticide was used in the first place, and had no opportunity to harm a community of workers somewhere else.

  11. Where harmful insect pests occur the nursery industry requires chemical means to kill all insects on stock being shipped, shipped across the county, shipped across the state or shipped across the nation. It doesn’t matter if your facility is organic and has no incidence of the pest – just the fact that the pest is in your region of the country. The only ornamental plant providers that could make it as pesticide residue free would have to be small operations that grow and sell from one facility – few can survive at that size.

  12. I don’t know what to say on this – so much depends on how the program is structured, who oversees it, who contributes to it, etc., etc. On the whole, I’m inclined to agree with Lisa C, but that also pretty much is in the “perfect world” sphere of things – and God knows, we don’t live there. So I guess the immediate answer is, “It depends”…….

  13. Thanks Amy for starting this discussion. I thought I would answer the questions about how SCS conducts the certification. We review each grower’s pesticide practices and conduct laboratory testing that targets each pesticide. To answer BooksInGarden’s question, we test each pesticide to the “limit of detection,” which is the lowest detectable level with today’s lab technology. This varies among pesticides, but it is usually 0.01 parts per million, which is far below regulatory or organic requirements.

    The Pesticide Residue Free certification looks primarily at the final product and not the techniques used for growing. We agree that the impacts on the environment and workers are as important as the end consumer. As Ray pointed out, Pesticide Free can be used with organic certification to address the issue that organic crops often have high pesticide residues. This certification can be used by smaller growers who can’t afford organic certification or who are currently undergoing the long organic certification process. –Nick Kordesch from SCS

  14. Interstingly, I agree with the troll. I know it’s difficult and expensive for growers to become certified as organic, but I think this halfway measure will only confuse consumers. And as several people pointed out, it will do little to improve the environment.

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