An earlier blog article (November 3, 2010) discussed general aspects of pesticides, including the following quote: “260 pesticides are linked to cancer; 65 are linked to Parkinson’s; 41 are linked to asthma; 26 are linked to learning and developmental disorders.” Are all pesticides hazardous to our health? No, only most. Remember that pesticides are designed to kill, whether it is insects, weeds, or fungi.
How do they get into our bodies? Through the foods we eat. Crops are sprayed with pesticides to decrease damage and therefore increase yields, and for cosmetic appearance. A strawberry grower in central California told me that he routinely tries to use no more pesticide than recommended by the USDA, but if competitors get higher prices for their strawberries because they have less blemishes, he feels compelled to increase his use of pesticide in order to have equally beautiful berries.
According to Christopher Cook, “Since the publication of Silent Spring, the amount of pesticides applied to our food has more than doubled. In 1997 US growers poured more than 985 million pounds of pesticides onto their crops…Each year, over 100 million pounds of highly toxic active ingredients from pesticides are released into the environment in California alone.”
You may ask, “How much pesticide is on our fruit, vegetables, and grains?” The results of USDA testing in 2003 gave these results.
- Vegetable fields and fruit orchards of the Sun Belt receive the highest doses of insecticides and fungicides.
- Corn and soybeans use nearly 75 percent of all herbicides because so much corn and soybeans are grown.
- 43 percent of the fruit and vegetable samples, 45 percent of the wheat flour samples, and 99 percent of the butter samples had detectable pesticide residues.
- Dates, peaches, grapes, and tomatoes are sprayed with more fungicide (pounds per acre) than any other crops.
- Pears top the list of crops most heavily sprayed with insecticides.
You may think that you can protect yourself by peeling or washing the fruit and vegetables, although you certainly cannot do this for grains in bread, cooking, crackers, cereals. But the residue levels quoted are for produce that had been peeled or washed. (See the data for pesticide residues in 48 fruits and vegetables published by the Environmental Working Group in 2007.)
Lest you become complacent about toxic chemicals on your food, consider how dangerous they may be. In an article, “Myths about Pesticides,” the Pesticide Action Network states that “A vast accumulation of peer-reviewed scientific studies document that there is no debate that pesticides are harmful to human health.” They give a few examples in recent news.
- An entire class of pesticides (organophosphates) has been linked to higher rates of ADHD in children.
- The herbicide atrazine, found in 94% of our water supply, has been linked to birth defects, infertility and cancer.
- Women exposed to the pesticide endosulfan during pregnancy are more likely to have autistic children.
- Girls exposed to DDT before puberty are 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer.
If you are not convinced of the subtle and long-range danger to your health from pesticide residues, you certainly should be concerned about the danger to your children, or grandchildren, and those waiting to be born. The common caveat in the home real estate business is “Caveat emptor” – Buyer beware – also applied to buying foods.