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Pesticides and Food

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There's little doubt that the hundreds of different pesticides used on crops ensure a cheaper, steadier supply of produce because they maximize a farmer's yield. After all, pesticides repel any number of intruders that can damage crops, including insects and weeds. Without many of them, we'd be paying much higher prices at the supermarket with less variety to choose from.

Yet, no parent likes to think of his child consuming pesticides, given a child's delicate, developing body. What are the exact dangers of pesticides to a youngster's development? That's tough to say. The EPA says pesticides block the body's uptake of nutrients critical for proper growth and wreak havoc on development by permanently altering the way a child's system functions. Other experts go further, contending that pesticide consumption threatens the normal maturation of the nervous system, which could affect a child's physical coordination, memory, and learning ability. So far, scientists' concerns about pesticides are based on animal studies, however. That's why it's difficult to prove the effects of pesticides on humans.

Even without scientific proof of harm from pesticides, consumer groups have a beef with the EPA's idea of what's safe for children to consume. They say that the government agency hasn't gone far enough to protect kids from harmful chemicals.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is one of the organizations that maintains kids are overexposed when it comes to pesticide residues in and on the foods young children consume most often. According to their research, more than a million American children ages five and under every day eat food that contains unsafe levels of thirteen pesticides collectively called organophosphates. Organophosphates are designed to disrupt the normal functioning of a pest's nervous system, effectively killing them off. The group estimates that of the 1.1 million children ingesting dangerous pesticide doses, 106,000 of them exceed the EPA's safe levels for an adult by ten times or more.

The EWG isn't the only organization to object to the EPA's pesticide limits for children. A report by a Committee of the National Research Council (NRC) concurs. Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children urges the government to develop new procedures for testing pesticide toxicity in youngsters, to collect detailed information about what kids eat, and to improve the methods of measuring pesticide residues in food. Most laboratory testing done by manufacturers to satisfy EPA requirements assesses pesticide toxicity in physically mature adults, according to the NRC. Among the report's other conclusions: some children could be consuming dangerous amounts of pesticides, and children may be more sensitive to the harmful effects of pesticides than adults.

After investigating the USDAs data on pesticide residues in twenty-seven thousand food samples, Consumers Union, the nonprofit group behind Consumer Reports, conducted its own study of risk. The group found that while the levels of pesticides on certain produce were within legal limits, they were not necessarily safe for children. To boot, some of the foods they have labeled most harmful—apples, pears, grapes, and peaches—are kid-favorites. It may come as a surprise that Consumers Union found imported produce no riskier overall than domestically grown fruits and vegetables. However, they did pinpoint specific imported fruits and vegetables that consistently contained high levels of pesticides: Chilean grapes, Canadian- and Mexican-grown carrots, Mexican broccoli and tomatoes, apple juice from Argentina and Hungary, and Brazilian orange juice all fared worse than their domestic counterparts.

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Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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