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Organic Center Releases Report Documenting Pesticide Related Public Health Benefits of Organic Food
June 21, 2004
GREENFIELD, Mass. (June 21, 2004) - The Organic Center for Education and Promotion recently released key findings of a new report examining the benefits of consuming certified organic foods. The report, Minimizing Pesticide Dietary Exposure Through Consumption of Organic Food, surveys and analyzes government data and scientific literature on the risks of pesticide exposure. The report also highlights the health-promoting benefits of eating and growing organic foods, especially during pregnancy and childhood.
According to the report, "Anyone eating more than one serving of conventional fruits and vegetables a day is likely to consume one or more pesticide residues. Those who follow USDA's dietary guidelines - consuming at least 'five-a-day' servings of fruit and vegetables - are ingesting six or more pesticide residues on most days."
The Organic Center's report concludes that eating organically grown and processed foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, significantly decreases the frequency and level of dietary exposure to pesticides, thus reducing the magnitude of one risk factor that can contribute to a variety of health problems.
"By simply eating your daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables organically, you can significantly reduce your overall pesticide exposure," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Center. "This is particularly crucial for infants, children and expectant mothers who can be most effected by pesticide exposure."
Multiple pesticide residues are commonly found on nine "kid friendly" fruits and vegetables including apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, celery, spinach and sweet bell peppers. Conventional samples found with no residues are uncommon, and in some cases, rare.
A growing body of epidemiological data links prenatal pesticide exposure (crossing the placenta during fetal development), as well as exposure during the first years of a child's life, to a variety of health issues including low birth weight, birth defects, abnormal neurological development and reproductive problems. Nearly three-quarters of the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed most frequently by infants and children in the U.S. contain pesticide residues.
A recent study titled Chemical Trespass-Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability released by Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN) analyzed data of testing conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the presence of chemicals, including 34 pesticides, in human bodies. The PAN report found that among those tested, the average person had 13 different pesticides in his or her body.
Further, the data showed that children and women of child-bearing age, the populations most at risk, carried the heaviest "body burdens" (amount in the body) of pesticides. For example, the data show that the average 6 to11 year-old sampled is exposed to the nerve-damaging organophosphorous (OP) pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers "acceptable" for a long-term exposure. Chlorpyrifos and other OP pesticides are used widely on "kid friendly" produce items such as peaches and apples.
In August 1996, the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was signed into law and directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess the risks of pesticides to infants and children consistently and explicitly as part of risk assessments generated during its decision making process, including the setting of standards to protect public health and the environment. The pesticide tolerances that were in place as of August 1996, when the FQPA was signed, are all subject to reassessment. This 10-year reassessment process is scheduled for completion in 2006.
Despite great fanfare when the FQPA was signed and the stronger regulatory powers given to the EPA in the new law, very few high-risk pesticides have been taken off the market. In fact, some of the most toxic insecticides on the market will be sprayed on more acres in 2004 than they were in 1996 when the new law came into effect.
Even more worrisome, the share of pesticide residues accounted for by imports has actually risen in the past ten years. Many of the conventional fruits and vegetables consumed by children in the U.S. are imported from countries with less strict pesticide regulations and very modest enforcement programs. As a result, imported produce often contains much higher average levels of chlorpyrifos and other pesticides than U.S.-grown produce. Purchasing organic fruits and vegetables is the most reliable way to reduce overall pesticide dietary exposure.
"The current state of science continues to indicate that eating organic foods can support healthy development in young children and also lower the frequency of some health and reproductive problems that tend to strike later in life," says Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., author of the Organic Center's report. "Because such a small number of foods accounts for most pesticide dietary exposure, selecting organic produce can provide a significant public health benefit."
People are exposed to pesticides in multiple ways throughout their daily lives. In recent years, numerous scientific studies have proven that this exposure is a risk factor that increases the occurrence of chemical sensitivity, mental disorders, cancer and other health problems. In some cases, it also increases their severity.
"The public will continue to hear conflicting claims about whether there is any reason to worry about pesticide residues in the diet," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Center. "While scientists work toward a more complete and accurate understanding of pesticide dietary risk assessments, eating certified organic food is one simple step consumers can take to reduce their overall pesticide exposure."
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