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PARENTS WITH PESTICIDE FEARS
TURN TO ORGANIC BABY FOOD

Erin O'Neal has two daughters and a fridge stocked with organic cheese, milk, fruits and vegetables in her Annapolis, Md., home.

She is among the increasing number of parents who buy organic to keep their children's diets free of food grown with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetic engineering.

"The pesticide issue just scares me - it wigs me out to think about the amount of chemicals that might be going into my kid," said O'Neal, 36.

Sales of organic baby food have jumped nearly 18% since last year - double the overall growth of organic food sales, according to the marketing information company ACNielsen.

As demand has risen, organic food for children has been popping up outside natural food stores.

For example, Earth's Best baby food, a mainstay in Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets, just reached a national distribution deal with Toys R Us and Babies R Us. Gerber is selling organic baby food under its Tender Harvest label.Stonyfield Farm's YoBaby yogurt can be found in supermarkets across the country.

The concern about children is that they are more vulnerable to toxins intheir diets, said Alan Greene, a pediatrician in northern California. As children grow rapidly, their brains and organs are forming and they eat more for their size than do grown-ups, Greene said.

"Pound for pound, they get higher concentrations of pesticides than adults do," said Greene, who promotes organic food in his books and on his website.

New government-funded research adds to the concern. A study of children whose diets were changed from regular to organic found their pesticide levels plunged almost immediately. The amount of pesticide detected in the children remained imperceptible until their diets were switched back to conventional food.

"We didn't expect that to drop in such dramatic fashion," said Emory University's Chensheng Lu, who led the Environmental ProtectionAgency-funded research. Lu's findings will be published in February in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Scientists are still trying to figure out how pesticides affect children, Lu said, but he notes that it took years to prove the health hazards of lead.

The uncertainty is driving parents, especially new or expecting mothers, toswitch to organic food. Many are even making their own baby food from organic ingredients.

"Maybe that has the reputation of being difficult, but it doesn't have tobe, and once you get into the habit of doing something regularly, it gets tobe easier," said Jody Villecco, a nutritionist for Whole Foods.

In a traveling lecture series for Whole Foods and Mothering magazine,Villecco demonstrates by shaving a peeled banana with a knife to make mush."There, we just made baby food," she said. She recommends people make babyfood in big batches and freeze it in ice cube trays.

Eating organic is definitely not cheap. But Green and Lu said parents haveoptions if they can't afford the food or don't want to search for it or makeit: Buy fruits and vegetables known to have lower pesticide residues.

The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group, has produced a guide to the pesticide levels in fruits and vegetables commonly sold in grocery stores, basing the findings on data from the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration.

The guide says the lowest pesticide levels are found in asparagus, avocados,bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples and sweet peas.

The highest pesticide levels, meanwhile, are found in apples, bell peppers,celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, redraspberries, spinach and strawberries.

Beyond baby food, dairy and produce, snacks are also a rapidly growing segment of organic food, according to the Organic Trade Association, an industry group.

Snacks are a priority for Susan Guegan, 44, a mother of four boys in Boulder, Colo. Guegan made their food from scratch when they were babies.Now she buys organic versions of the cookies and hot dogs they ask for.

"They love Oreos," she said. "They'll say, 'Can we get this?' I'm like, 'Can you read me the ingredients?' They'll laugh and try to say some of them.I'll say, 'You can put that back.'"

Written by: The Associated Press

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