Importing coated food

Which fruits and vegetables contain the most and least pesticides?

Andrew Schneider, senior correspondent at SeattlePI, is investigating pesticides and residue on our food.

Is anyone really checking to see how much pesticide is on the produce we import?

He’s found a poor system in the USA. Conflicting interests. Opposing forces. Hidden agenda.

On the 19th, we ran in the PI a story on a hazmat coalition involving King County and three dozen other political entities that removed from its Web site and handout materials a wallet-sized shopping guide to which fruits and vegetables contained the most and least pesticides.

The story explained that agri-business groups had urged the county to get rid of the guide.

The data on which the card was based came from USDA analysis of more than 50,000 samples of food. [found via the good folks at barfBlog]

Wow! More than three dozen agriBiz groups hope you do not know this information.

high pesticide foods

low pesticide foods

But on the other hand!
Published in the Economist, this letter offers a strong counterpoint to our worry about food residue. It might be we are unable to truly determine a level of safety for most pesticides. It might be we are ingesting natural toxins produced by a wide variety of the plants we eat. There’s much to learn and discover.

What’s in your food?

SIR – Your article on the regulation of pesticides should have pointed out that slightly exceeding the “maximum residue levels” in some food, as occasionally happens, is a risk perhaps equivalent to the likelihood of being hit on the head by a meteorite (“A balance of risk”, July 5th). Of greater risk to humans is the exposure to thousands of pesticides made naturally by plants (to kill herbivorous insects) and found in all fruits and vegetables. The average daily diet contains a quarter teaspoon of natural nerve toxins, endocrine disrupters, carcinogens and chemicals that damage chromosomes, skin, blood and the thyroid.

Humans are not adapted to these natural chemicals, in which the margin of safety is about tenfold compared with traces in synthetic pesticides (some 10,000-fold higher). Yet unqualified environmental groups and European bureaucrats are obsessed with agricultural pesticide safety, basing their assumptions on unjustified fear and anxiety. Neither makes for good policy.

Anthony Trewavas
Professor of plant biochemistry
Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences

Government in Europe

The EU’s scientific assessment is that people who have continuous exposure to pesticides, for example from polluted water, pesticides in food, living near where pesticides are sprayed, and especially from working with pesticides, “may have a higher risk of incidence of cancer or other chronic diseases, birth defects, cancer in offspring, stillbirths and reproductive problems” and more.

This is why the use of sprays in farming has been controversial for over 50 years.

The public are rightly suspicious of government and industry claims that pesticides are ‘safe’, and the chemical industry should not be surprised at continuing public suspicion and criticism by environmentalists and others. Now things are changing.
The EU proposals on pesticides are supported by almost all the elected governments in Europe. In terms of a direct democratic mandate, they do not go nearly far enough, because almost all the European Parliament’s amendments to strengthen these pesticide laws have been rejected by government ministers from the member states.

None of this will affect organic farmers.