Once again the media are warning us about the dangers of pesticides in food—a subject with which NOHA members have been familiar for years. Television programs and newspaper articles are focusing on the problems. Several books have been aimed at the general public, and comprehensive reference works are available.
For Our Kid's Sake: How to Protect your Child Against Pesticides in Food was published this year by Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits, a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This book contains information on what pesticides are used most frequently on what foods, with specific recommendations for reducing the contamination plus several pages of sources of mail-order "organic" foods grown by farmers who have not used any pesticides on their crops or animals. As these poisonous pesticides drift everywhere, however, even the most carefully grown food is only, in the words of NOHA Professional Board member Theron G. Randolph, MD, "chemically less contaminated" than food pesticided directly. Never the less, in his experience, choosing the "organic" food and reducing other chemical exposures can make the difference between health and chronic illness for many of his patients.
For Our Kid's Sake warns us of the dangers from pesticides especially to our children, who are rapidly growing and who consume much more than adults per body weight of the contaminated fruits and vegetables. This higher rate of consumption results in greater vulnerability to cancer, with its affinity for rapidly growing cells, as well as greater vulnerability to other toxic effects, such as neurologic damage.* For Our Kid's Sake does not just warn us, it also recommends action: It includes postcards, addressed to the heads of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and appropriate congressional committees, expressing concern about pesticide residues in our children's food and requesting appropriate action immediately. Also, individuals demanding "organic" food in the marketplace can powerfully influence what is produced.
Pesticide Alert: A Guide to Pesticides in Fruits and Vegetables by Lawrie Mott and Karen Snyder, Sierra Club Books, 1988, is another fine nontechnical reference book with specific guidelines for how pesticide contamination may be reduced by washing or peeling a certain fruit or vegetable treated with particular pesticides, whose health effects are listed.
Pesticides and Human Health by William H. Hallenbeck and Kathleen M. Cunningham-Burns, Springer-Verlag, 1985, is a technical reference book that gives many more health effects than are listed in Pesticide Alert and For Our Kid's Sake. The authors, from the School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, used freedom-of-information requests to obtain "health effects data that are not available in the open literature. In the case of newer pesticides, they may be the only source of information." Pesticdes and Human Health is an excellent reference to use when discussing pesticides with government employees or supermarket managers, both of whom need to see the technical toxicology and all the references.
Another important reference is the United States General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters, NON AGRICULTURAL PESTICIDES: Risks and Regulations, April 1986, which points out that any advertising claim is unlawful if it states or implies that a pesticide is safe: "EPA's labeling prohibitions are based on its repeatedly stated position that no pesticide is 'safe' because pesticides are, by their very nature, designed to be biologically active and kill various kinds of organisms."
Because the dangers of pesticides in food are currently in the public consciousness, now is an excellent time for action: demanding "organic" food; demanding the right to know of pesticide residues. A number of organizations besides NOHA are interested, including the Human Ecology Action League (National HEAL), which grew out of the Human Ecology Study Group. The latter was founded in the 1960s by Dr. Randolph's patients, who also organized an "organic" farm so they could obtain less-contaminated food. Americans for Safe Food, sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is a coalition "whose goal is to convert consumer dismay about health risks in food into progress toward the general availability of contaminant-free food."
*". . . a very large proportion of all the pesticides used today are neurotoxic, and many are expressly designed to disrupt nerve function." (from "Neurotoxicity of Pesticides" by Bambi Batts Young, PhD, Journal of Pesticide Reform, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 1986).
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XIX, No. 3, Summer 1989, pages 3-4.