GroundTruth Blog

Thanksgiving math: the false calculus of pesticide residues

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by Karl Tupper

Holiday spreadIn my family Thanksgiving means cranberries, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole. So I decided to check these foods out on WhatsOnMyFood.org. The results weren’t exactly appetizing. Here’s what the USDA found, after washing:

Green beans: 44 different pesticides with the most commonly detected being acephate, a highly neurotoxic organophosphate insecticide. One sample had 200 micrograms of it per 100 gram serving (slightly more than one cup). That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice the EPA's level of concern for children. 

And while only one of the 560 samples tested by the USDA had this high level, the U.S. has 70 million-odd kids. If only one quarter of those children eats a cup of green beans at some point next week, and one of out every 560 of those servings is contaminated at this level, then more than 30,000 kids will be receiving a risky dose of acephate. 30,000 kids consuming risky doses of a highly neurotoxic pesticide is an unacceptable gamble premised on a false choice.

Other Thanksgiving veggies aren't much better: USDA found 37 different pesticides on potatoes, 64 on the celery, 13 on cranberries, and 28 on winter squash (including pumpkin).

But — Big Ag’s recent disingenuous PR projects notwithstanding — the message here is not "skip the sides." Fruits and vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, and most Americans — especially kids— don't get enough of them. Even with all the pesticide residues found on food, it's still better to eat your vegetables than not. Rather, the take away message is, "Let's make fruits and vegetables even healthier by taking the pesticides out."

30,000 kids consuming risky doses of a highly neurotoxic pesticide is an unacceptable gamble premised on a false choice.

On a personal level, this means buying organic whenever possible. But most of the 84% of American families who actually have enough to eat cannot afford to eat only organic. That's one of the reasons we created WhatsOnMyFood.org: to help consumers make informed choices. As the website shows, no acephate was found on any of the organic green beans tested by the USDA. In fact, none of the 44 pesticides found on conventional green beans was detected on any of the organic samples.

But WhatsOnMyFood is first and foremost about transforming our food system into something that can produce affordable, healthy, pesticide-free food for everyone. Children are especially susceptible to pesticides, so ensuring that they have access to healthy, clean food is critical. And this is why PAN is working to transform agriculture, shifting it from a resource-intensive industrial model promoted and protected by agrochemical corporations to a cleaner, more productive and fairer system based on agroecology.

This Thanksgiving let’s refuse the false choice presented by the pesticide industry: cheap food or healthy, fair food. Because we shouldn't have to decide whether to buy the conventional, pesticide-laden celery or the more expensive, pesticide-free organic version. Find out more about how you can help us make choices like this a thing of the past.

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