PESTICIDES IN CHILDREN'S FOOD
TEN YEARS AFTER ALAR
Ten years after a consumer revolt against apples treated with the carcinogen Alar prompted a ban on the chemical, children are no better protected from pesticides in the nation's food supply, according to government data on the pesticides most often found in kids' favorite foods. A new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows apples, as well as some other fruits and vegetables, are so contaminated parents should consider substituting items known to be lower in pesticides.
EWG also called on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner to immediately ban the use of one highly toxic insecticide that poses short-term risks to small children.
The group said an emergency cancellation of the bug killer methyl parathion is needed because hundreds of thousands of preschoolers are exceeding government-established safety limits for the pesticide every day, mostly through consumption of apples and peaches. EWG recommended that until methyl parathion is banned, parents shift from apples and peaches to other fresh fruits for preschoolers.
The EWG analysis follows on the heels of similar concerns raised about pesticides in foods last week by Consumer Reports magazine and EWG ran a full-page ad in the New York Times warning of pesticide risks in children's foods, and urging consumers to once again make their voices heard.
"Consumers revolted in 1989 when the news media revealed that government scientists knew Alar was a potent carcinogen, but under pressure from the manufacturer allowed the chemical to stay on the market," said Ken Cook, president of EWG and an author of the report. "Today, nothing's changed: Children's foods are contaminated with unsafe levels of numerous pesticides. The government knows this, and is dragging its heels лл protecting chemicals instead of kids."
EWG's computer-assisted analysis of more than 110,000 government-tested food samples and detailed government data on children's food consumption found that multiple pesticides known or suspected to cause brain and nervous system damage, cancer, or hormone interference are common in foods many children consume. According to EWG's report, How 'Bout Them Apples?:
More than a quarter million American children ages one through five ingest a combination of 20 different pesticides every day. More than 1 million preschoolers eat at least 15 pesticides on a given day. Overall, 20 million American children five and under eat an average of eight pesticides every day.
Every day, 610,000 children ages one through five -- equal to all the kids of that age in the states of Washington and Oregon combined -- consume a dose of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides (OPs) that the government deems unsafe. More than half of these unsafe exposures are from one pesticide, methyl parathion.
Preschoolers' eating habits are even more dramatically different from adults than previous data have shown--another factor driving pesticide risks. Taking their weight into account, kids 1 to 5 consume 30 times more apple juice, 21 times more grape juice, 7 times more orange juice than the average person in the population. Four million American 1-to-5-year-olds (20 percent) drink apple juice every day.
Ten years after Alar, apples are still loaded with pesticides. The average apple has four pesticides after it is washed and cored. Some have as many as ten. More than half the children exposed to an unsafe dose of OP insecticides get it from apples, apple sauce or apple juice. Some apples are so toxic that just one bite can deliver an unsafe dose of OPs to a child under five.
Parents can significantly and easily reduce their family's exposure to pesticides -- just as they've learned to cut back on fat or cholesterol. Kids should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, but emphasize those with fewer pesticides on them.
Government tests show that red raspberries, strawberries, apples, and peaches grown in the United States and cantaloupe from Mexico are the foods most contaminated with pesticides. The fruits least contaminated with pesticides were watermelon, bananas, kiwi, pineapple, and domestically grown cantaloupe. The least contaminated vegetables include corn, onions and peas. Organic food is the safest choice of all.
Cook dismissed food industry claims that banning or reducing the use of dangerous pesticides is impossible and would be costly to consumers. He cited an aggressive program by the nation's leading baby food company to eliminate pesticides from its product line.
"Why can't other food companies do what Gerber has done to protect consumers from pesticides?" EWG's Cook asked. Gerber has banned most organophosphate insecticides, as well as other pesticides, from nearly all of its products.
"Gerber has done far more than the government requires to protect infants from pesticides. How impractical can that be if Gerber's baby foods lead the market?" Cook said.
Written by: Environmental Working Group
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