Bug and weed-killers are common ingredients in the diet of most Americans, including, shockingly, infants in the womb.
Back in 2004, my colleagues and I decided to find out if pesticides were making their way into the blood of the developing fetus. We had laboratories test samples of umbilical cord blood from 10 newborns, and the tests identified 212 industrial chemicals and pesticides, including the notorious banned pesticide DDT.
Scientists do not know all the implications of exposure to an unknown number of pesticides in utero, but it can’t be good. These chemicals, designed expressly to kill living organisms, have been linked to neurological disorders, cancer, hormone system disruption, and skin, eye and lung irritation.
Researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected pesticides in blood and urine samples of virtually all Americans over the age of six who participated in voluntary biomonitoring tests. More than 60 percent of those tested harbored seven or more of pesticides and pesticide metabolites on every given day.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) most recent tests have found widespread pesticide contamination on a range of non-organic fruit and produce, including celery, strawberries and apples. USDA detected pesticides on 7 of every 10 fruit and vegetable samples tested.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Everyone, including babies in the womb, can realize significant reductions in their pesticide levels.
While it is virtually impossible to avoid pesticides altogether, choosing a diet rich in organic foods can dramatically reduce your pesticide intake. Scientists have concluded that the “body burden” of pesticides in an average person who eats and drinks products produced conventionally—that is, produced with the assistance of pesticides—will drop dramatically if he or she eats organic food or, if going 100% organic is not an option, simply avoids those conventionally-grown products commonly found to carry the most pesticide residues.
You can lower your pesticide consumption by nearly 80 percent by substituting the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables with organic options or eating the least contaminated produce, according to our calculations. EWG makes this information easily available to the consumer with its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides™ in produce. The pesticide industry, on the other hand, would rather you be kept in the dark on this information. Having this information easily accessible to consumers terrifies chemical producers and those who use them because when consumers know what’s in—and on—their food, they will change their purchasing habits accordingly. Last year, the pesticide industry launched an attack on EWG and this Shopper’s Guide, even going so far as to obtain a federal grant of nearly $200,000 to fund the attack. But we continue to make it available to you because we believe consumers have a right to know the facts about the food they are eating and feeding to their families. The guide helps conscientious shoppers put their food budgets to best use.
Continue to educate yourself about pesticides and their effects on the human body and the environment, and vote with your dollar for food choices that reduce your body’s exposure to these dangerous chemicals. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website, www.ewg.org, to learn more about topics from health, farming, natural resources, energy, chemicals and more.
Ken co-founded EWG in 1993. He is the author of dozens of articles, opinion pieces and reports on environmental, public health and agricultural topics. Cook earned B.A., B.S., and M.S. degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is married to Deb Callahan and lives in Washington, D.C.