by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pesticides

Sep 15 2021

Midweek reading: The Meat Atlas

Take a look at this.

The authors write:

It is clear that many (especially young) people no longer want to accept the profit-driven damage caused by the meat industry and are increasingly interested in and committed to climate, sustainability, animal welfare and food sovereignty causes. We consider this an encouraging step for our future and want to use this Atlas to strengthen their commitment with information.

This Atlas is intended to support all those who seek climate justice and food sovereignty, and who want to protect nature. Revealing new data and facts, and providing links between various key issues, it is a crucial contribution to the work done by many to shed light on the problems arising from industrial meat production.

They aren’t kidding about data, facts, and issues.  The graphics alone are worth viewing.  Three examples.

Pesticide applications, global:

Diseases transmitted by animals to humans: A chronological list

Trends and investment in plant-based meat alternatives

And here’s what The Guardian highlights: meat and dairy firms emit more greenhouse gases than Germany, Britain, or France.

 

Mar 28 2019

Environmental Working Group: Pesticides in Produce

I am often asked about pesticides on fruits and vegetables, how serious a problem they are, and how to avoid them.  I don’t know how harmful they are; the research is too hard to do definitively.  But I generally favor the Precautionary Principle: while the science is pending, avoid them as much as you can.  Here’s how.

The Environmental Working Group has released its annual lists of the most and least pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.

EWG’S DIRTY DOZEN FOR 2019

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

The report emphasizes:

  • More than 90 percent of samples of strawberries, apples, cherries, spinach, nectarines, and kale tested positive for residues of two or more pesticides.
  • Multiple samples of kale showed 18 different pesticides.
  • Kale and spinach samples had, on average, 1.1 to 1.8 times as much pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

EWG’S CLEAN FIFTEEN FOR 2019

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons

See the full list of fruits and vegetables.This results may sound cute, but this report comes with impressive supporting material:

Feb 22 2018

USDA’s pesticide testing results for 2016

Worried about pesticide residues on fresh and processed fruit and vegetables?

The USDA tests for a bunch of them in more than 10,000 food samples (of which more than 90% are fruit and vegetables).

The results from 2016 are encouraging.

Residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.46 percent (48 samples) of the total samples tested (10,365 samples).

Of these 48 samples, 26 were domestic (54.2 percent), 20 were imported (41.7 percent), and 2 were of unknown origin (4.1 percent).

Residues with no established tolerance were found in 2.6 percent (273 samples) of the total samples tested (10,365 samples).

Of these 273 samples, 179 were domestic (65.6 percent), 90 were imported (32.9 percent), and 4 were of unknown origin (1.5 percent).

These are low percentages.

They could be lower.

It’s good the USDA is keeping an eye on this.

Mar 23 2017

Two U.N. Rapporteurs take on pesticides

The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, and the Special Rapporteur on Toxics, Baskut Tuncak, have issued a report on pesticides as a human rights issue.

They

Told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that widely divergent standards of production, use and protection from hazardous pesticides in different countries are creating double standards, which are having a serious impact on human rights…The Special Rapporteurs pointed to research showing that pesticides were responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year. The overwhelming number of fatalities, some 99%, occurred in developing countries where health, safety and environmental regulations were weaker.

The site says the full report is available here, but I could not access it from that site and requested it.  It is here).

In the meantime, The Lancet has an editorial about it: “Phasing out harmful use of pesticides.”

The UN rapporteurs are damning about the “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” of the pesticides industry and the money spent on influencing policy makers and disputing scientific evidence. They call for a new global treaty to regulate and phase out the use of hazardous pesticides in farming. Such an international pact would be a welcome addition to efforts towards a more sustainable future but it will take time to form, especially considering the likelihood of industry opposition to it. More immediately, much more can be done nationally to strengthen existing weak regulations on the use and safety of these chemicals to protect the health of populations and the environments that they depend on.

Let’s hope these statements bring this issue to public attention—again.  We need another Rachel Carson!

Jan 3 2014

Winter Friday: a good day for GMO announcements

Two today:

General Mills: GMO-free Cheerios

General Mills says it will make a GMO-free version of its Cheerios cereal.  This is surprising because it says Cheerios’ oats have never been GMO.   Now, it will take extra trouble—and, no doubt, charge more—to make sure the GMO and non-GMO sugars and corn don’t mix.

USDA deregulates 2,4-D herbicide for GMOs

The USDA released its draft Environmental Impact Statement:

as part of its review to determine whether to deregulate genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean plants that are resistant to several herbicides, including one known as 2,4-D.  [USDA] APHIS is performing an assessment of these GE plants, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a concurrent review of the related herbicides.

…Dow AgroSciences’ GE corn and soybean plants are the first developed to be resistant to 2,4-D and are intended to provide farmers with new plants to help address the problem of weeds that have developed resistance to other herbicides.

Dow, which filed the petition for this action, is pleased.

Is 2,4-D safe?  The USDA says yes.

The National Pesticide Information Center sort of says so too, except that it lists plenty of reasons for concern, “possibly carcinogenic” among them.

Earth Justice points out that this action will allow farmers to douse fields with 2,4-D:

The potent and toxic 2,4-D has been linked to many human health problems. It also is likely to harm non-genetically engineered crops in neighboring fields, threaten endangered species, and ultimately lead to the development of weeds that are resistant to it, leading to even more problems.

Even more reason to buy and promote organics!

Mar 15 2013

Drug corporations 1, Bees 0

Everybody is, or should be, worried about the health of bees.  Without them, we don’t have pollinated agriculture.

Bees, the New York Times tells us in an astonishing statistic, “pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food.”

Bees are not doing well, and nobody really knows why.  Could colonies be collapsing because of a virus?  Mites?  Stress?  Or, as in the case of a leading hypothesis, insecticides used on crops?

Europeans worried about a particular class of highly effective insecticides widely used in production agriculture—neonicotinoids—proposed to restrict their use in flowering crops for two years.

But the European Union voted today to allow use of neonicotinoids to continue, even though the European Food Safety Authority recommended against this.

Also as discussed in the New York Times,

Companies that produce neonicotinoid-based pesticides, including the German giant Bayer CropScience and Syngenta, the big Swiss biochemical company, have lobbied strenuously against the moratorium. Monsanto incorporates the chemical into some of the seeds it produces; in the United States, neonicotinoids are heavily used on the country’s huge corn crop.

Some nations in Europe already restrict use of these insecticides, but not all.

The Times quotes officials of companies that make neonicotinoid insecticides, Bayer and Syngenta.  The officials say:

  • The science is uncertain.
  • Banning them would jeopardize agricultural competitiveness.
  • Prices of food, feed, fiber and renewable raw materials would rise.
  • 50,000 jobs would be lost.

This comes right out of the standard industry playbook.  Anything that harms bees in the short term has long term consequences.  Shouldn’t officials be looking at long-term strategies for protecting bees.  Bees need help!  And so will we, if we don”t help them now.

Jul 3 2012

Two new reports on pesticides in foods, from different perspectives

It’s hard to know what to say or do about pesticides in foods.  They are there and cannot easily be avoided. 

Are they harmful in the small doses found on foods?   Convincing studies one way or the other are hard to do. 

The Alliance for Food and Farming is an industry group with a stated mission “to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of all fruits and vegetables.”

Its new report is called “Scared Fat.”  It reassures you that pesticides on fruits and veggies do no harm, so relax.

 The Maryland Pesticide Network and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future take a precautionary approach: whenever possible, avoid.

They have produced Best Management Practices Guide for Mimimizing or Eliminating Use of Pesticides for homeowners, farmers, property managers who want to do just that or at least minimize use of these chemicals.

If you prefer to avoid, take a look.

And enjoy your  4th of July salads!

Dec 8 2011

Consumer Reports’ arsenic-in-juice study: what to do?

I don’t often write about pesticides, plasticizers, heavy metals or other such potentially toxic substances in food because there usually isn’t enough science available to draw firm conclusions about how much of them is OK to consume.

At high concentrations they are demonstrably toxic.  But in food and water, they appear in amounts measured as parts per billion (ppb) or trillion, and it is difficult to know how harmful they may be at such levels.

The big question: is there a threshold for harm or are they unsafe at any level of intake?  The history of regulation of such substances is one of constant reduction in levels considered safe.

They derive in large part from industrial processes, and attempting to regulate them confronts large and powerful industries eager to argue that low levels are safe.

Now Consumer Reports has tested samples of juice and finds levels of arsenic  higher than allowed in drinking water:

  • 10% of the samples contained levels of arsenic that exceed EPA drinking-water standards of 10 ppb.
  • 25% contained levels of lead greater than the FDA’s 5 ppb standard for bottled water.
  • Most arsenic was inorganic, a form linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, and type 2 diabetes.
  • 35% of children age 5 and younger drink juice in amounts higher than recommended by pediatricians.
  • No federal standards exist for amounts of lead and arsenic in juice.

This is a food systems issue.  Inorganic arsenic gets into food from soil contaminated with arsenic-containing herbicides and waste from animals and chickens fed arsenic-containing additives.

Consumer Reports says:

  • FDA should set a standard for total arsenic in juice at 3 ppb and 5 ppb for lead.
  • EPA should lower the 10 ppb drinking-water limit for arsenic.
  • Parents should limit juice servings to small children.

What does the FDA have to say?

The Food and Drug Administration has every confidence in the safety of apple juice…small amounts of arsenic can be found in certain food and beverage products—including fruit juices and juice concentrates….there is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices…FDA has been testing them for years [see the FDA’s Q and A].

As if this were not enough to worry about, Food Quality News reports increasing concern about the amount of arsenic in rice, the dangers of such levels for pregnant women, and the need to establish better standards for safe levels of arsenic in foods.

Consumer Reports is especially concerned about a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences linking rice consumption to levels of arsenic in the urine of pregnant women.   It notes that children in the U.S. typically are fed rice cereal as their first solid food, making them especially vulnerable to the effects of arsenic.

Arsenic gets into rice in the same way that it gets into apples and grapes, but rice is especially efficient in taking up arsenic from soil.

I see all this as further evidence that agricultural practices are key determinants of public health and that we badly need:

  • More and better research on the effects of small amounts of arsenic, lead, pesticides, and other such toxins in food
  • Research on how to remove such toxins from soil
  • Federal safety standards for arsenic in foods and beverages; the Consumer Reports recommendations make sense
  • Regulations that restrict use of arsenic drugs in animal agriculture and of pesticides containing arsenic
  • Restrictions on the amount of juice and rice given to children

It’s great that Consumer Reports is doing this kind of research but federal agencies should be doing a lot more of it too.