Year of Publication



Martin School of Public Policy and Administration

Date Available


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration

Committee Chair

Dr. Annelise Russell

Executive Summary

Medical studies over the past few decades have shown increasing evidence that exposure to pesticides is associated with numerous health conditions, specifically Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, leukemia, asthma, and depression. Pesticides are widely used across the United States to ensure an affordable and bountiful food supply, but many of the chemicals used pose notable health risks. Numerous programs exist to measure and monitor pesticide exposure from agriculture, but researchers and public health experts remain uncertain of the efficacy of regulatory programs on reducing the amount of pesticide used and on protecting citizens from exposure. Organic agriculture, which uses significantly fewer pesticides than conventional agriculture, has long been promoted as beneficial for both the environment and public health. Indeed, many consumers across the United States have a perception that eating organic food is healthier than eating conventional products. However, the primary regulatory program for organic production, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic Program, largely ignores considerations of public health when developing policy. While not an official goal of the program, one potential positive externality is the opportunity to reduce the amount of pesticides used across the country, and thus reduce the incidence rates of health conditions linked to pesticide exposure. This study uses a fixed effects regression to examine USDA certified organic agricultural operations and health outcome incidence rates across all 50 states in the United States to evaluate the impact of the USDA organic program on public health. The study uses data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, the Centers for Disease Control, the United States Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies between 2011 and 2017. Using this data aggregated at the state level, this analysis shows potentially promising results for the effect of the organic program. While multiple factors contribute to incidence rates of the four selected health outcomes, all four are significantly impacted by increases in USDA certified organic production. Overall, the results indicate that increased USDA certified organic production could be an effective tool for mitigating health problems associated with pesticide exposure. With this in mind, the program could benefit from more consideration of public health issues and the impact of organic production on human health when creating programs and policies.



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