(By Megan Dunn, Healthy People & Communities Program Director)
Two new studies released by Friends of the Earth show why it is so important to buy and eat organic. One study found pesticide residues in conventionally grown food purchased from major retailers, and a second study found pesticide levels in the body drop dramatically after just one week of eating organic!
Testing results (www.foe.org/food-testing-results) released in February found store and name brand foods produced and sold by the top four U.S. food retailers, Kroger, Walmart, Costco and Albertsons, contained residues of toxic pesticides linked to a range of serious health and environmental problems. Conventional (non-organic) products and produce were purchased in 15 cities across the country by Friends of the Earth and allies, including NCAP. We joined in this research project to better understand pesticide residues found on common foods we feed our families.
The report found that oat cereals, apples, applesauce, spinach and pinto beans at the retailers contained detectable amounts of glyphosate, organophosphates and neonicotinoids. The average level of glyphosate found in cereal samples (360 parts per billion) was more than twice the level set by scientists at Environmental Working Group for lifetime cancer risk for children. The average level of glyphosate found in pinto beans (509 ppb) was more than 4.5 times the benchmark.
Pesticides are proven or suspected (depending upon the pesticide) to exert developmental, hormonal, reproductive, and/or carcinogenic effects. Reducing pesticide use and eliminating pesticide exposure with socially just worker protection regulation is a basic element of agricultural sustainability, along with environmental stewardship and economic viability. It is time to implement healthy solutions and reduce exposure for our working families and children. The samples of conventional foods we purchased from local Everett, Washington stores were part of this study, which found pesticide residues in every sample of oat cereal, apple sauce and beans, common foods we give to children.
“Toxic pesticides are showing up in what should be some of the healthiest and most affordable foods supermarkets sell,” said Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Children, farmworkers and rural communities are routinely exposed to multiple pesticides linked to cancer, learning disabilities and hormone disruption. This is unacceptable. We’re calling on food retailers to get toxic pesticides out of their supply chains and off store shelves and help make organic food available to all Americans.”
Findings of the food testing commissioned by Friends of the Earth are significant because of the ubiquity of toxic pesticides found in many different types of non-organic foods children eat on a daily basis. Findings include:
- Glyphosate, a probable human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency, was found on 100% of oat cereal samples and 100% of pinto bean samples tested.
- Organophosphates, which are so toxic to children’s developing brains that scientists have called for a complete ban, were found in 100% of applesauce samples, 61% of whole apples and 25% of spinach samples, at levels ranging from 0 to 3.31 nmol/g.
- Neonicotinoids, which the European Union have banned due to robust science linking the chemicals to bee die-offs and linked to endocrine disruption and autism spectrum disorder, were found in 80% of spinach and 73% of applesauce samples ranging from 0 to 0.14 nmol/g.
Kroger, Walmart, Albertsons and Costco control over one third of all food and beverage sales in the U.S. Friends of the Earth and over 100 other organizations are urging these companies and all food retailers to phase out toxic pesticides in their supply chains and increase offerings of domestic, organic foods, which are produced without these and many other toxic, synthetic pesticides.
Friends of the Earth is releasing the report Toxic Secret: Pesticides uncovered in store brand cereal, applesauce, beans and produce found here at www.foe.org/food-testing-results.
Solution: Eat Organic and Support Organic for All!
A second study also released this month offers a way to reduce low level pesticide exposures–eating organic food, supporting organic agriculture and supporting organic options for all. A groundbreaking, new, peer-reviewed study compared pesticide levels in the bodies of four diverse American families on a non-organic and an organic diet. It shows that pesticides in their bodies dropped up to 95% within one week on an organic diet.
The study was published in the journal Environmental Research. Research found that switching to an organic diet significantly reduced the levels of synthetic pesticides found in all participants, after less than one week. On average, the pesticides detected dropped by 60.5% after just six days of eating an all-organic diet (see www.OrganicforAll.org).
The study found significant reductions in pesticides that have been associated with increased risk of autism, cancers, autoimmune disorders, infertility, hormone disruption, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Friends of the Earth tested the urine of four racially diverse, American families in Oakland, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Baltimore after eating their typical diet of conventional food for six days and then after a controlled diet of all organic food for six days. The findings:
The most significant declines involved organophosphates, a class of highly neurotoxic pesticides linked to brain damage in children. The study found a 95% drop in levels of malathion, a probable human carcinogen, and a nearly two thirds reduction in chlorpyrifos.
The neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin dropped by 83%. Neonicotinoids are among the most commonly detected pesticide residues in baby foods. They are associated with endocrine disruption and changes in behavior and attention, including an association with autism spectrum disorder.
Levels of pyrethroids were halved. Exposure to this class of pesticides is associated with endocrine disruption, adverse neurodevelopmental, immunological and reproductive effects, increased risk of Parkinson’s and sperm DNA damage.
Finally, 2,4-D dropped by 37%. It is among the top five most commonly used pesticides in the U.S. and is associated with endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, increased risk of Parkinson’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, developmental and reproductive toxicity and damage to the liver, immune system and semen quality.
Support Organic for All
We all have the right to food that is free of toxic pesticides. The farmers and farm workers who grow our nation’s food, and their communities, have a right to not be exposed day in and day out to chemicals linked to serious health problems. And the way we farm should protect, rather than harm, the biodiversity, soil and water that sustain all life.
Organic for all means investing in a food system that is healthier for you and healthier for farmers, farmworkers and rural communities. And it means investing in a system that protects bees, helps mitigate climate change and safeguards water, soil and the ecosystems that sustain all life.
We can work together to pass laws in our cities, states and country that decrease pesticide use and expand organic farming. We can change the national Farm Bill–a major piece of legislation that determines how food is grown in the U.S. and what food is available to us as eaters. And, we can tell food companies and grocery stores to end the use of toxic pesticides in their supply chains and expand organic offerings.
Right now, farming with toxic pesticides is the norm, but we can turn the system around. The science is clear that we can grow abundant food without pesticides. We need to organize, raise our voices, demand that our leaders step up and shift support, research and policies to create a system where organic is for all. The solution is here–we just have to grow it.
You can find the study, additional videos of the families and ways to take action at:
Friends of Earth contributed content to this article.
 EWG determined that a one-in-a-million cancer risk would be posed by ingestion of 0.01 milligrams of glyphosate per day. To reach this maximum dose, one would have to eat a single 60-gram serving of oat cereal with a glyphosate level of 160 parts per billion (ppb) or a 90 gram serving of pinto beans with a glyphosate level of 110 ppb.