Like others across the country, this Thursday I'll be joining extended family and friends to celebrate each other and the earth's bounty. I look forward to meeting up with cousins coming to town from distant cities, and enjoying the yummy dishes we'll all contribute to the feast.
I'm also hoping we keep the acephate, methamidophos and chlorothalonil off the menu. (Easy for me to say, right?) Sadly, according to government testing, these hard-to-pronounce pesticides are among those commonly found on green beans. And they're not good for you.
Green beans are among the pesticide-laden fruits and veggies identified by researchers as cause for concern in a sobering new study released last week. Also on the list were peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, dairy, pears and celery.
Scientists at UC Davis wanted to find out how much of what harmful chemicals are found on various foods, and what health problems the residues are known to cause, from cancer to birth defects. They then looked at how much of these foods people eat every day to get a sense of the overall intake — with particular attention to children's diets.
Rainbow Vogt, the study's lead author explains their motivation and approach:
Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only measures risk based on exposures of individual contaminants. We wanted to understand the cumulative risk from dietary contaminants.
The study looked at the eating habits of both kids and grownups, working with more than 350 children under age seven, and around 600 adults. They found that overall, people are consuming too much of these harmful chemicals. Preschool children, who are "particularly vulnerable to compounds linked to cancer and other conditions," have higher-than-safety-benchmark levels of more than half the compounds being studied.
Beyond the pesticides on fruits and vegetables, it turns out processed foods such as potato chips and tortilla chips can contain a number of harmful chemicals, including arsenic (!!), dioxins and acrylamide. All of which have links to cancer, and people — especially kids — are eating enough to cause concern.
This study comes on the heels of a paper from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on children's health and organics, which also pointed to diet as the primary source of pesticide exposure for kids.
We probably shouldn't be eating so many chips anyway . . . but fruits and veggies? We all need more of them. So what to do when researchers flag concerns about the health effects of green beans, peaches and strawberries?
Both the AAP study and this one urge people to keep eating fresh produce, to choose organic when you can, and when you do eat conventional to mix it up to avoid overloading on a particular pesticide.
Our WhatsOnMyFood.org website is a good tool to have in your toolbox to make smart choices about your produce. It not only shows you what pesticides have been found on what foods (according to USDA sampling data), but also what health effects are linked to those chemicals. So if you want to avoid doubling up on neurotoxicants, you can.
Of course it would be awfully nice if parents didn't have to balance the intake of hormone disruptors and carcinogens for their preschoolers. I mean, really. That's why here at PAN we're pushing for real changes to how food is grown in this country — and momentum is building.
People often ask if it's overwhelming, knowing as much as I do about the health effects of pesticides that show up in our food. But as I get ready to cook up neurotoxin-free cranberries and sit down on Thursday to celebrate food, family and health, I can honestly say I'd rather know than not know.
I'm thrilled to be part of the fast-growing movement that's building a future where truly healthy food can be celebrated from the farm fields to the dining room table. Here's to a happy — and healthy — Thanksgiving to you and yours.