With Carol Baxter
Tips for teachers, parents and kids on how to live "greener" everyday lives.
Hi! Thanks for stopping by. Every month, I will answer your questions on
how to bring environmental studies into the classroom, how to deepen our
environmental awareness and how to live more "green". I'll suggest seasonal
activities that can help our children get closer to nature and give
suggestions on how to encourage them to be loving caretakers of our great
planet earth. I want to encourage our children (and ourselves) to fall in
love with nature. When you love something, you will take care of it.
I look forward to hearing from teachers and parents about environmental
projects that you've done that have been successful. E-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll share with others what you are doing.
Also, I want to hear from Kids! E- email your poems and stories about
nature, ecology and our great Planet Earth, to and I will
share your feelings with other kids in the Earth Patrol Kids section at the
end of this site.
Questions and Answers
Question: I have three children. I know pesticide-residues on foods used to be a problem. Do we still have to be concerned with pesticides on foods? J. B.
Answer: Yes. Just recently, the March issue of Consumers' Reports revisited this issue. They reconfirm the fact that safe levels of pesticide residues have yet to be set for children.
Over fifty years ago, most farming was "organic". Synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides were first introduced on a large scale in the 1940's for the purpose of eliminating farming "pests"; insects and weeds. These pesticides were described as "miracle" treatments.
Today, their use has exploded into a multi-billion dollar business for chemical companies. For decades, their negative impact on human health and the earth had been over-shadowed by what the pesticide could eliminate. But, according to the extensive medical and scientific data that has been collected over the last ten years, there is founded cause for concern of pesticide use.
There are many reasons why we should consider choosing pesticide-free, organic foods.
Here are just ten reasons:
- For our children's health. Two major studies, the 1989 report "Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in Our Children's Food.", by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the 1993 "Pesticides in Infants and Children.", by National Academy of Sciences (NAS), concluded that children were being exposed to pesticide residues in food that were well above government safety levels set for adults. Adult levels are especially hazardous for infants and children because of their low body weight. Children under two are at special risk because their immature and rapidly developing systems can not properly detoxify these chemical residues. Also, children's unusual eating habits lead them to eat large quantities of one fruit or vegetable for weeks.
Jay Feldman of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP) states, "Existing literature links low level exposure over time may result in chronic health effects such as cancer, birth defects, genetic damage, neurological, psychological, and behavioral effects, blood disorders, reproductive effects, and abnormalities in liver, kidney and immune system."
- For our health. According to Dr. Devra Davis of the World Resource Institute, in 1995, it was estimated that 50,000 American women died of breast cancer. Many pesticides are hormone-mimicking, "... which mimic the action of estrogen produced in cells or which alter the hormone's activity." There is compelling evidence that these hormone-mimicking chemicals are linked to the increase of breast cancer. Endosulfan, one such insecticide, is widely used on carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach. Also, extensive data links the worldwide decrease in male sperm count to these toxic chemicals.
- Healthy farming. Healthy soil is made up of millions of micro-organisms. Pesticides not only kill pests, but destroy these micro-organisms, eventually leaving the soil "dead". Crops grown in an organic way, are growing in a "living" soil.
- Healthy farm workers. Farm workers, especially migrant workers, are exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals daily. There are documented incidences of entire farm worker communities whose health is in crisis.
- Conserving natural resources. All petro-chemical pesticides and fertilizers are made using oil. Oil is a natural resource that is not renewable. When oil is depleted, it is gone forever.
- Pesticides leach through soil, and ground water, and "drift" through the air contaminating untreated areas. In "Tap Water Blues", a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) every spring, more than 14 million people in cities south of Chicago, are drinking herbicide-laced tap water. 150 million pounds of chemical herbicides used on corn and soybean farms are carried by rains to rivers which empty into reservoirs. Water treatment facilities can not remove these toxic chemicals. Three of the five chemicals, atrazine, cyanozine and simozine are linked to birth defects, genetic mutations, breast and other cancers, and developmental abnormalities.
- Preservation of wildlife. DDT, the miracle pesticide used heavily in the 1950's and 60's, was banned in the U.S. in 1972. In Maine alone, residues of DDT can still be found. DDT is linked to the reproductive problems of their local eagle population and DDT is found in their tissues.
- Negligent use of pesticides. Corporate negligence of pesticides often appears in the news. For example, in 1994, General Mills had been selling Cherrios and ten other cereals, for over thirteen months, that were contaminated with the pesticide, Dursban. Discovered in a routine check by the FDA, it was learned that Dursban, which is unapproved for use on oats, was sprayed on over 21 million bushels of oats, in place of the more expensive Reldan. Both are nerve poison-type insecticides.
- Current "safe" pesticide levels do not take into account that more than one pesticide is used on a particular food product. USDA found residues of eight pesticides on washed and ready to be eaten apples, six on grapes, and seven on peaches.
- Some people believe that organic food tastes better. Organic produce is not bred for appearance, like conventional produce.
How to lower pesticide residues
Current advice is that you wash, peel, and remove outer leaves and layers of your produce to avoid pesticide residues, but Mr. Wiles, of EWG says, "In general, these residues will not be substantially reduced by washing and peeling. But people should still wash their produce." Betsy Lydon of Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet adds, "The most effective way to limit residue is to focus our attention on how food is grown and produced, not just on how to take it off the end product."
Some ways to avoid pesticide residues are:
- Buy "certified" organic products. Organic means that food has been grown without the use of synthetic chemical treatments, irradiation or preservatives. Organic food is certified based on standards set state by state, by an impartial third-party agency.
- Buy produce grown in the USA. Many dangerous pesticides that are banned in the U.S., are still allowed to be manufactured here and sold to other countries. They in turn, use them on produce that is sold back into the U.S. This is called the "circle of poison". Annually, 150 billion pounds of prohibited pesticides are exported to third world countries. Only 1% of produce coming into the U.S. is checked for safe levels. Look for country of origin when you shop.
- Buy local. Locally grown produce is fresher, lasts longer and generally has not been treated with post-harvest chemicals because the travel time from farm to consumer is shorter.
- Buy in season. If produce is in season, it is generally grown locally. Big strawberries sold in the winter traveled a long way to get to your table and needed a lot of chemical treatment to keep them looking good.
- Avoid waxed fruits and vegetables. Wax (made of petroleum oil) seals in pre and post harvest chemicals. It is now a Federal law that supermarkets must display charts informing which produce is waxed and what it is waxed with. Look for these charts.
- Avoid pesticide intensive foods. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed 15,000 food samples tested for pesticide levels by the F.D.A.. The list, in order of highest pesticide levels are: strawberries, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, peaches, cantaloupe, celery, apples, apricots, green beans, grapes, and cucumbers. Most of these are popular children foods. They offer a positive solution by replacing these questionable produce with oranges, grapefruits, blueberries, pears, United States cantaloupe, carrots, bananas, broccoli, green peas, cauliflower, asparagus, brussel sprouts and potatoes.
For further information on pesticides contact these organizations:
- Environmental Working Group (EWG) www.ewg.org
- Just Food www.justfood.org
- National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) www.nrdc.org
- Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) www.panna.org/panna/
When you shop, look for organic produce and food products. Read the labels and signs to learn which foods are waxed and to learn the country (or state) of origin. Ask your market manager to stock organic foods. And in the summer, shop at farmers' markets and learn first hand from the growers how they grow their food.
EARTH PATROL KIDS
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