Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 15 July 2011 00:00
If you are a gardener, around this time of year, your tomato and pepper plants are getting taller, basil is filling out, you might even be getting fast-growing stuff like lettuce and spinach already. As you think about how you garden at home - hopefully with an organic soil and certainly without the many hazardous pesticides used in commercial farming – it is a good time to think about all the foods you cannot grow and how they could affect your health. If you don’t garden at all, the same question applies: are traces of dangerous chemicals left on the fruits and veggies you and your family are making the effort to eat in order to stay healthy?
One gardening guru says that through his own research he found that there is a significant amount of “pesticide residue” on the fruits and vegetables we most commonly eat. George Pisegna, director of Horticulture and Public Programs at the Horticultural Society of New York works at the largest gardening library, offering consulting and education on everything related to growing plants. He told Anton Community Newspapers that looking at reports coming from the USDA confirmed his instinct to eat organic foods.
“What do pesticides do? They kill. Bugs, weeds, rodents, fungus - they kill them and we are eating that too. That is a scary thought,” shared Pisegna.
Indeed, based on a report that the USDA started generating in the 1990s, part of the Pesticide Data Program, or PDP, many organizations are questioning whether or not the level of residue of certain pesticides found in the report is too much. Or… if any amount of a deadly chemical is more than you want to consume.
The foods that many, including Pisegna, recommend you seek out from organic markets are the ones we eat most. Almost all nectarines, celery, pears, peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries, grapes, potatoes, spinach, oranges, cucumbers, even cilantro, have been found to have the residue of poison. This was after washing them for 10 seconds.
The EPA and many farmers’ organizations say that pesticide levels commonly found on our food are within a safe range for consumption. Other groups argue that the effects of pesticide on human welfare – especially related to children’s health and development - have never been fully assessed.
Some health organizations point out that the overwhelming majority of pesticides used have not been tested for a connection with cancer, genetic mutation and birth defects, for starters. In the late 1970s, Congress created the Federal Pesticide Act, and the EPA was meant to investigate the health effects of thousands of poisons. Many argue that the research and analysis was never done completely and, further, new types of pesticide are used throughout the world on food we import without any knowledge of their effects.
A laboratory called QTS Analytical tests for pesticide residue in Europe. The company makes two important arguments. First, the poisons are related to a list of health issues. Pesticides used on things like apples, peas and beans can cause “hormone disruption” – causing low sperm count in males and early puberty in girls, the groups asserts. A common fungicide, they say, has been shown to damage the development of mammals in the womb. They link another poison to breast and other cancers. Others, they link to Parkinson’s and nervous system problems, as well as general symptoms of fatigue, headache, pain, insomnia, lack of concentration and depression.
The second issue that this laboratory raises is related to the question: are the levels of pesticide that we view as acceptable OK for adults? If so, where does this leave children? The QTS lab group argues that many scientists find that behavioral disorders may start in the womb as a result of pesticide. They also say that children’s immune systems could be permanently damaged in early development by exposure to the chemicals, creating a variety of health problems later.
Back in the U.S., the American Medical Association recently put out a report that ADHD, or attention deficit and hyperactivity, are possibly linked to pesticides in foods. As of several years ago, the report said that four and a half million children have been diagnosed with ADHD. The group based this on a National Health and Nutrition Survey that found that around 65 percent of children tested showed signs of pesticide exposure and, of those, the kids with higher levels were two times more likely to suffer from ADHD.
If any of this is enough for you to question whether or not it’s worth the risk to your – and your children’s – health, there are a few easy options. First, gardening proponents like Pisegna at the Horticultural Society say that around this time of year, you can easily grow a few things at home.
“Get a container with sterile soil,” he said. “Most vegetables can be grown at home – anything from peppers, carrots, zucchini, beans, peas, beets, radishes.”
Or, you can buy organic year-round. Pisegna said that the most important thing is finding a trustworthy food source, rather than the best-looking piece of fruit: “True organic healthy foods are not beautifully shiny and clean. They have nicks, dents and bites. It’s all about presentation in this country, but the biggest, most beautiful stuff is that way because it is grown with pesticides,” he said.