The Organic Center acts as a kind of shadow USDA, digesting the latest peer-reviewed research on organic food, translating it into English, and issuing summary reports.

Consumers won’t want to miss the center’s newest one on pesticide residues [PDF]. It contains one of those handy guides on which conventional fruits and veggies convey the most toxic traces to eaters (here’s a handy two-pager [PDF] for the fridge), as well as a blunt and important discussion of the plant- and mineral-based pesticides allowed in organic production.

But what really caught my eye was the bit about milk — and how it brims with industrial-chemical and pesticide residues.

The Organic Center points us to 2004 testing of 739 samples of conventional milk, performed by the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program. Here’s what they found.

  • Ninety-six percent of samples contained DDE, “a breakdown product of DDT, which was banned from agricultural use in the early 1970s. DDT is very persistent and remains to this day in many cropland soils; its soil half-life (time required for 50 percent to dissipate) is generally between 15 and 30 years, depending on soil and climatic properties.”
  • Nearly 99 percent contained diphenylamine (DPA), a “‘high volume’ industrial chemical used for many purposes in manufacturing rubber and plastic parts, and in making certain drugs.”
  • Forty-one percent of samples contained dieldrin, a “long-banned” organochlorine pesticide.
  • Endosulfan sulfate, an endocrine disrupter, turned up in 18 percent of samples.
  • About a quarter of samples delivered synthetic pyrethroid insecticides.
  • Nearly 9 percent of samples contained a lovely-sounding chemical called 3-hydroxycarbofuran, a “highly-toxic breakdown product of the carbamate insecticide.”

The USDA didn’t comprehensively test conventional against organic milk. However, 10 of the 739 samples were labeled organic — and “just like virtually all samples, all 10 samples contained DPA and nine had DDE residues,” the Organic Center reports.

Clearly, that bit needs more study — 10 samples can tell us little. I’d like to see studies that differentiate between varieties of organic ag — pasture-based systems and the confined style favored by mega-organic dairies like Aurora and Horizon.

But the presence of all of this industrial crap in our milk supply is surely alarming. As the Organic Center states:

The fact that over one-quarter of the conventional milk samples tested in 2004 contained endosulfan or a carbofuran metabolite is deeply worrisome, given that these chemicals are among the pesticides found in numerous toxicological studies to pose serious developmental risks during pregnancy and to infants and children as their bodies grow and mature.

I like how all of this information has been sitting around since 2004, not going much of anywhere even as the USDA pushes milk as a healthy dietary staple, even — if not especially — for pregnant women and children, the very folks most vulnerable to pesticides.