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Reduce your risk by avoiding toxins in food

Mar 19, 2015
Photo Credit: Martina TR

Photo Credit: Martina TR

Avoiding pesticides is one of the top reasons people choose organic, and a recent publication by Consumer Reports once again confirms that the organic standards are effective at protecting consumers against pesticide exposure.

The report examines the level of pesticides on commonly consumed crops in the United States, and identifies the fruits and vegetables that fall into the highest risk category.  Risks are determined based on the number of pesticide residues on each food, the frequency that the residues were found, and the toxicity of the pesticides.  It probably comes as no surprise to most readers that organic fared extremely well in their analysis.  “All of the organic produce in our analysis fell into the very low-risk or low-risk categories,” states the report.

Pesticide Cocktails

One of the concerning issues the report brings up is the presence of multiple pesticides, or pesticide cocktails, on individual foods.  It is an unfortunate reality that we are never just exposed to one chemical at a time.  This fact is often hidden from consumers.  The Consumer Reports survey found that a third of Americans believe there’s a legal limit on the number of different pesticides allowed on food. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Many pesticides get used in combination, so a lot of the food we eat has a cocktail of residues on it.  Recently, more researchers are doing research on the health effects of pesticide residues, and are  finding that pesticides can have synergistic negative effects on health, where being exposed to pesticide cocktails is more harmful than the additive negative effects of each individual pesticide. Recently, a review article was published looking at what we know about the health effects of pesticide combinations, and they concluded that every meal people eat is likely to have a cocktail of pesticides in it, and these pesticides can affect each other causing higher toxicity than a single pesticide exposure incident in isolation.

Photo Credit: USDA

Photo Credit: USDA

Pesticides and Children

The Consumer Reports article also brought up the fact that children are likely to be at the highest risk from pesticide exposure, outside of farm workers.  In fact, even before children are born they can be at risk from pesticide exposure in the womb, so it is especially important for pregnant women and children to avoid pesticides.  Pesticides can linger in children’s bodies longer than adults, because their metabolism is different from adults.  Additionally, children’s immune systems are still developing, so toxins can have a disproportionate adverse effect on them.

Pesticides can also harm the ability to have children for both women and men.  For example, a joint report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine suggested that environmental chemicals such as pesticides are a risk to pregnancy.  Additionally, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development published a paper showing that pesticide exposure can harm reproductive health.

The Bottom Line

The Consumer Reports publication supports several other research studies showing the benefits of choosing organic when it comes to avoiding pesticides.  The article states that “experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food.”  While your top concern should be eating a healthy diet, a recent survey by the Organic Trade Association found that families prefer an organic diet, but don’t abandon fruits and vegetables as their awareness of residues grows.  In fact, organic buyers showed an increase in fresh fruit and vegetable intake, with 76% of organic buyers saying they ate fresh fruit versus only 63% of non-organic buyers.  Additionally, 47% of organic buyers listed choosing organic foods as an action taken to improve overall health.

We adhere to the advice of Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., a toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center:  “We believe that organic is always the best first choice. Not only does eating organic lower your personal exposure to pesticides, but choosing organic you support a sustainable agriculture system.”

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