Are Pesticide Residues In Coffee Harming You?

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Are Pesticide Residues In Coffee Harming You?Graphic © – original photo – Pixabay (PD)

According to data from the National Coffee Association published by the Harvard School of Public Health, more than half of Americans aged 18 and older drink at least one cup of coffee every day. On average, American’s drink 3 cups of joe a day — that’s nine ounces per cup of coffee. That totals to $40 billion dollars spent on coffee annually! Can you imagine how much money we are spending on a drink that could potentially harm us? [1]

Coffee has links to hypertension. Caffeine is a stimulant. It causes your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to dilate, causing an increase in blood pressure. If you have hypertension, you may be better off going decaf or cutting coffee from your diet altogether. [2]

In a report made by The Christian Science Monitor, they noted that Latin American farmers are slowly “abandoning” organically-grown coffee and turning towards methods that involve the use of pesticides. Simply put, the roasters (or the “buyers” of coffee straight from the farms) opt to purchase cheaper coffee that has been exposed to pesticides – basically coffee that is not organic. [3]

While it may make no immediate sense why coffee that has been treated with chemicals is actually cheaper than coffee that hasn’t been treated with anything, the reasons are ultimately financial. Farmers and roasters look at it in terms of output. Coffee crops that have had pesticides sprayed on them have an overall increase in production – but as the article says – “at a cost to the environment”. CS Monitor reports that conventional farms use as much as 250 pounds of pesticides on each acre of land – can you imagine the damage that does to the environment (and the residue that ends up in the products)? In exchange for higher yield in production, farmers sacrifice the safety of their consumers and the safety of their land.

Residues “Burnt Off” By Roasting? Misleading

Some roasters may argue that pesticides are basically “burnt off” during the roasting process but Sakamoto, et. al. in 2012 found that some residues remain. Atrazine was found to be burned off as it is unstable to heat. However researchers found that ten percent of chlordane (banned in the USA) remained after the roasting the coffee beans. PBO or Piperonyl butoxide (exponent synergist used to enhance the effect of insecticides by lowering the ability of insects to metabolize them) was also retained in similar amounts to chlordane after the same amount of roasting was done. [4]

The harmful effects of pesticides are not unknown to us. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, people have a misunderstanding that some pesticides are “safe” while some are “dangerous”. Many pesticides are classified as “carcinogenic” by the IARC, [5] such as organophosphates, lindane, and the previously mentioned chlordane. Scientific research has indicated that exposure to these pesticides may cause genetic mutations that can lead to cancer. [6][7]

With the amount of coffee we drink every day, it is of no surprise that our exposure to pesticides is slowly rising over the years. With the threat of genetic disturbances and eventual cancer diagnoses looming over us, maybe it’s time to go organic with your coffee choices. Supporting the organic growers helps them to continue to grow organically. There are many organic choices in terms of coffee in your supermarket – you just need to look! If you want to opt for a caffeine-free alternative, you can choose organic herbal tea instead. In fact, why not try to grow your own herbs for tea? Try to grow lemon verbena, peppermint, or chamomile — they are among the easiest plants to grow in your garden.


[1] Harvard School of Public Health. Coffee by the Numbers.

[2] Mayo Clinic. High blood pressure (hypertension).

[3] Fieser, E. (2009). Organic coffee: Why Latin America’s farmers are abandoning it.

[4] Sakamoto, K., Nishizawa, H. & Manabe, N. (2012). Behavior of pesticides in coffee beans during the roasting process.


[6] National Pesticide Information Center. Understanding Pesticide Risks.

[7] Dich, J., et. al. (1997). Pesticides And Cancer.

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