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How Many Pesticides are in Your Food?

Break down the word “pesticide” and you’ll notice the Latin root “-icide,” which means “to kill.” Simply put, pesticides are poisons designed to kill, injure or impair an organism.

Pesticides were developed to protect crops from insects, rodents and other pests, as well as to control weeds, mold, bacteria and disease. The ideology is that this industrialized farming, complete with chemical pest control and synthetic fertilizers, would allow farmers to reap bigger harvests and larger returns for their crops. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that traditional farming is leading to declining yields due to soil degradation and there are indications that eating foods laced with these chemical residues are leading to a number of negative health effects in humans.

Further, organic farmers, who use natural methods such as insect predators, barriers, crop rotation, hand weeding, and cover crops to control pests and weeds, can produce crop yields and cash returns that are competitive and even superior to crop yields and returns produced by traditional farming methods.

Nonetheless, many farmers use chemical pesticides. There are five basic categories of pesticides that are currently used on crops. These include:

  • Insecticides to control insects
  • Rodenticides to control rodents
  • Herbicides to control weeds
  • Fungicides to control mold and fungus
  • Antimicrobials to control bacteria

The Problem With Pesticides

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides and 30 percent of insecticides are known to be carcinogenic, or cancer causing. And as written on the EPA site, laboratory studies show that pesticides can cause health problems such as:

  • Birth defects
  • Nerve damage
  • Cancer
  • Blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth in children
  • Other long-term effects

Pesticides are especially dangerous to children since they are still developing and may not be able to fully remove pesticides from their body. There are also periods during development when exposure to pesticides, or any toxin, can cause permanent damage to their system.

Of course the EPA notes that the government does regulate pesticides to determine “that they will not pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment.” For food items, the EPA sets limits on how much pesticides can be used and how much can remain on food. However, there is really no way to know just how many pesticides are left on the food you eat aside from having it lab-tested yourself.

Alarmingly, the EPA also says, “You and your family have a right to know under the law that in certain cases, such as economic loss to farmers, a pesticide not meeting the safety standard may be authorized.” This means that in “certain cases” unsafe, unauthorized pesticides can legally be sprayed on your food!

Pesticides are not only problematic on fruits and vegetables, but also in animal products. Factory farm animals eat feed that is loaded with pesticides, and these toxins accumulate in their flesh over their lifetimes. If you eat factory-farmed meat, you are also eating the pesticides that have accumulated in the animal’s flesh (not to mention the antibiotics and hormones).

How to Reduce Your Risk

There are several ways to reduce your risk of pesticide exposure. Buying organic food and naturally raised meat like free-range organic chicken is the most effective way, as these foods are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and other chemicals.

However, if you don’t have access to, or simply cannot afford, organic food, you can use the following chart to determine which fruits and vegetables have the highest and lowest amounts of pesticides, and then buy accordingly. This is also useful if you can only buy some organic items, as you will want to be sure to purchase organic versions of the high-pesticide foods. Feel free to print out the chart and keep it in your wallet for a quick and easy reference.



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