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Pesticide Action Network

“Decoder ring for food” documents pesticides on common foods

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2014

Paul Towers, PAN, 916-216-1082

“Decoder ring for food” documents pesticides on common foods now includes baby food for first time in national sampling, underscores need to protect children from hazardous pesticides

Screen%20Shot%202014 06 03%20at%2010.50.52%20AMOakland, CA – Just in time for summer, and in response to increased public attention to how food is grown, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) released an update to, the organization’s online decoder ring for food. With this latest release, PAN again looks to fill a void as federal officials fail to live up to a decades-old congressional mandate to protect children from harmful pesticides.

These latest federal pesticide residue data, collected in 2012 by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and made public earlier this year, are now available via Pesticide Action Network’s user-friendly tool, The USDA’s Pesticide Data Program regularly monitors pesticides in the U.S. food supply, and now includes testing of several kinds of baby food.

“The sampling data clearly show that many common foods can and do contain multiple pesticide residues,” says Dr. Emily Marquez, staff scientist for PAN. “While the levels of individual pesticides continue to be mostly below levels considered ‘of concern’ by EPA, science clearly points to long-term harms of low-level exposures — particularly for children.”

Many of the pesticides found have been linked to human health harms such as cancer, neurodevelopmental delays and reproductive harm. PAN’s online tool links USDA data with the latest science on human health effects of each chemical.

“We all know a healthy diet for kids includes plenty of fruits and veggies,” says Kristin Schafer, PAN’s program and policy director, and mother of two. “We’re pressing for a food and farming system where parents don't have to worry about harmful chemicals on peaches or strawberries, and food is safe for all children, from field to fork.”

The new data includes sampling of 112 foods for nearly 300 pesticides or pesticide breakdown products.  A few highlights from the new data now featured on include:

  • Baby food peaches and pears have the highest number of pesticides found among the baby foods sampled, 26 and 22 respectively.
  • The chemical found most often in baby food pears (pyremthanil) showed up in more than 60% of samples taken. It has been linked to cancer and is a suspected hormone disruptor.
  • Summer favorites such as cherries and strawberries are among the produce with at least 40 different pesticides or breakdown products found. Others in this category include apples, celery, cilantro, cucumbers, green beans, hot peppers, kale, lettuce, peaches and summer squash.

The baby food findings are of particular interest. Children are known to be particularly at risk from pesticide harms and the American Academy of Pediatrics cites food as the primary source of children’s exposure. Pound for pound children eat, drink and inhale more than adults, which means they are taking in more pesticides for their body weight. Their systems are also developing quickly and can be susceptible to interference from low-level exposures, particularly to those chemicals known to disrupt the hormone system. Rural children, especially farmworker children, face the greatest number of potential exposures — from air, water and food.

PAN and other groups renewed litigation just last week challenging EPA for its failure to create protections for children from harmful pesticides, as required under the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act.

The food residue data is especially important as it comes at a time when industrial agricultural groups have launched an aggressive public relations campaign to create doubt about the harms of pesticides and challenge the value of green and cutting-edge agricultural systems, especially organic farming.

“This data shows without a doubt that kids are exposed to pesticides every day, and that many of these chemicals are known to harm human health,” adds Schafer. “Industry is saying the problem doesn’t exist — or that pesticide residues can be simply washed away. The numbers say otherwise, and we need stronger policies supporting clean and healthy food for everyone.”

USDA researchers wash and/or peel foods before samples are taken, so preparation is as similar as possible to common use.  

In addition to data about what’s on food and how it’s grown, PAN also released updates to the user-friendly, a detailed listing of toxicity and regulatory information of pesticides, as well as pesticide use data for California, the only state to comprehensively track use.

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Pesticide Action Network

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