The list of substances used in growing food conventionally is long. Not only are these harmful by themselves, but when combined in commercially grown and processed food and accumulate in the human body, their effects have been found to be magnified as much as a 1,000-fold.
Not only do these practises rob the health of the consumer but also the grower. The EPA estimates there are about 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses per year in farm-related work. Another study found that the sperm count of men living in agricultural areas was 40% less than that of men living in big cities. Over 3,000 high-risk toxins routinely present in the U.S. food supply are, by law, excluded from organic food. It can take as many as 100 different chemicals to grow an apple and just as many to create decaffeinated coffee!
They are by far the largest group of toxins prohibited from organically grown foods but which are found virtually everywhere else in the food supply. Several hundred different chemicals and several thousand brand-name pesticide products are legally used in commercial food production in the U.S. Fifteen years ago, the EPA classified 73 pesticides authorized for agricultural use as potential carcinogens, but they are still allowed to be used. At least 20 different chemical pesticides are routinely present in municipal tap water across the US.
This Canadian Government report warns of the health risks associated with pesticide use, with a particular focus on the risks to children and infants. It notes: Pesticides are known to play, or are suspected of playing, a role in a myriad of diseases and developmental abnormalities, including cancer (brain, breast, stomach, prostate, and testicles), childhood leukemia, reduced fertility, damage to the thyroid and pituitary glands, lowered immunity, developmental abnormalitie, and behavioural problems. The report also outlines the known effects of organochlorines, organophosphates, phenoxy herbicides, endocrine disruptors, and other substances commonly found in Canadian pesticides.
Pesticides can cause cancer. Vinyl chloride causes liver sarcomas. Arsenic causes skin and lung cancers. Benzene causes leukemia. Scores of other chemicals in food, including the fungicides captan, iprodione, and ethylene thiourea, most synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, and the herbicides acetochlor, atrazine, and simazine cause cancer in well-conducted animal studies.
Pesticides also cause several other conditions, including developmental and reproductive toxicities. Developmental toxicants are chemicals that cause a range of conditions from birth defects to low birth weight to a host of physiological, behavioral, or biological problems. Some are apparent at birth but many develop as the child grows. Reproductive toxicants are chemicals that damage reproductive organs or impair the function of the human reproductive system. Effects on females include disruption of the menstrual cycle, miscarriages, changes in onset of puberty, gestation time, premature menopause, and alterations in sexual behavior. In males, such effects will include decreased sperm counts, altered sexual behavior, decreased fertility, and even sterility.
Pesticides affect the endocrine system, which is the body’s messenger and hormonal system. These chemicals can disrupt the transmission of messages by blocking the hormone receptors in cells and can inhibit the ability of the various glands from creating their hormones in the first place. Other chemicals affect the way that these hormones are stored, transported, and eventually destroyed.
Pesticides affect the nervous system because they contain neurotoxic compounds which affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system. Effects range from muscle weakness, tremors, and loss of motor control, to confusion, memory loss, and permanently impaired behavior or learning capacity. This is not only of importance to the growing fetus, infant, and young child but also to the developing brains and bodies of teenagers.
Pesticides also affect the immune system by interfering with the complex chemical balance necessary for proper immune function. Such chemicals, as PCBs, dioxin, and organochlorine pesticides can interfere with the body’s ability to create anti-bodies, leading to an AIDS-like syndrome where the body becomes vulnerable to even the smallest infection. Other chemicals, like formaldehyde and the pesticide malathion, can hyper-stimulate the immune system, causing the body to create an systemic over-abundance of antibodies that can actually start attacking healthy cells.
See also: Aa is for Apple, Pp is for Pesticide.
Such metals as cadmium, lead, and mercury enter the food supply through industrial pollution of soil and groundwater and through machinery used in food processing and packaging. Mercury is toxic to brain cells and has been linked to autism and Alzheimer’s disease. Cadmium, which can be concentrated in plant tissues at levels higher than those in soils, has been linked to lung, prostate, and testicular cancers. Lead has long been recognized as having serious adverse impact on health, especially that of young children, but it is still used to seal tin cans. Even low levels of lead are harmful and are associated with decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, decreased stature and growth, and impaired hearing.
They are another concern because they are used mainly to dissolve food components and produce food additives, as well as being ever-present in commercially processed food. Major solvents used in the food packaging industry are ethyl acetate, ethanol, N-propanol, Iso Propanol, Methoxy propanol, and ethoxy propanol. Such solvents as benzene and toluene have been linked to numerous cancers. Benzene has been repeatedly associated with rheumatoid arthritis an auto-immune condition involving pain and degeneration in the joints that affects over 2 million adults in the U.S. Solvents have also been shown to affect fetal development.
What Chemicals Do on a Cellular Level
A 2001 US governmental study found that exposure to pesticides can cause a range of human illnesses that run from the relatively mild headaches, fatigue, and nausea to the more serious cancers and neurological disorders. Occupational asthma is also common. Children, farmers, and farm workers are particularly vulnerable.
Science is continually learning why health problems are increasing. Certain agricultural chemicals, for instance, have the ability to cause genetic mutations that can lead to various diseases, including the development of cancers. PCP (pentachlorophenol) is one example that has been found to cause DNA fragmentation.
Agricultural chemicals, especially paraquat, parathion, dinoseb, and 2-4-D, also have a negative effect on mitochondrial function and cellular energy production in a variety of ways. One way is by increasing membrane permeability. This exposes the mitochondria to damaging free radicals, inhibiting a process known as coupling that is integral to the efficient production of ATP (muscle energy)
. The insecticide endosulfan and the herbicide paraquat have been shown to oxidize lipid molecules, thereby damaging the phospholipid component of the cellular membrane. Other studies have shown that such pesticides as chlopyrifos, endrin, and fenthion over-stimulate enzymes involved in chemical signaling, causing an imbalance that has been linked to such conditions as atherosclerosis, psoriasis, and inflammation to name a few.
Some research studies have looked at vitamin levels of food plants treated with certain pesticides. It was noted that applications of some pesticides would significantly lower the vitamin levels in the plants to which they were applied. This differs from previous notions that plants raised with chemicals are low in nutrients only because the soil is depleted. Instead, this shows that chemicals actually reduce the amount of nutrients in plants after application. The nutrients most often affected are vitamin C, beta carotene, and the B vitamins. Ironically, these are the very nutrients vital for the body to withstand the onslaught of chemical toxins.
Children are particularly vulnerable
According to a National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diet of Infants and Children, pesticide regulation and monitoring are outdated and flawed. Risk assessment is based on adult consumption and assumes that exposure is only to one pesticide at a time. This assessment does not take into consideration multiple chemical exposures from water, air, and literally dozens of substances common in the modern environment, which includes the food we eat. Not only that, but out of the 70,000 chemicals in daily use, only about 250 can be tested for in humans. Furthermore, many EPA-approved pesticides were registered long before extensive research linked these chemicals to cancer and other diseases. Today, the EPA considers only the following as potentially cancer causing:
- 60% of all herbicides (weed killers)
- 90% of all fungicides (mold killers)
- 30% of all insecticides (insect killers)
A 1993 report, Pesticides in Children’s Food, stated that, “the average child exceeds the EPA lifetime one-in-a-million risk standard [of cancer] by his or her first birthday.” Even more realistic and frightening is the fact that more than ONE MILLION children in the US alone, between the ages of one and five, ingest at least 15 pesticides each day just from fruits and vegetables; and more than half of them are still consuming doses of insecticides that the US government considers to be unsafe. All this comeswhile governmental agencies issue their own oxymorons by pressing for increased consumptions of fruits and vegetables to prevent cancers, heart disease, and obesity!
A 2003 study from the University of Washington showed that children eating mainly organic food had much less exposure to organophosphorus pesticide residues. Organophosphorus pesticides are linked to neurological and growth problems. In the same year, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected twice the level of some pesticides in the urine of children as in that of adults. Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle found that preschoolers fed conventional diets had six times the level of certain pesticides in their urine as those who ate organic foods.
A recent news article pointed out what has long been suspected our newborns are coming into this world laden with toxic chemicals.
Pregnant women should also be concerned
Even before the above news article hit the stands as recent findings, it has long been shown that pesticides cross the placenta. Few doubt that high doses of pesticides can cause neurological or reproductive damage. A study at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York found a link between pesticide use in New York apartments and impaired fetal growth. With infant reproductive organs still forming and the brain developing through age twelve and with young livers and immune systems less able to rid bodies of contaminants, eating organically-produced products is even more crucial for pregnant or breast-feeding women as well as their offspring.
Produce with the heaviest load of pesticides
Apples, Apricots, Canteloupe, Celery, Cherries, Citrus (lemons, limes, oranges especially if using the peels), Cucumbers, Green/Yellow Beans, Grains, Imported Grapes, Lettuce, Nectarines, Pears, Peaches, Peppers (bell and hot), Potatoes, Red Raspberries, Spinach, Strawberries, Tomatoes, and Winter Squash.
Produce with the least amount of pesticides
Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Blueberries, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Kiwi Fruit, Mangos, Okra, Onions, Papaya, Peas, Pineapple, Plantain, Plums, Radishes, Sweet corn (although most now are likely a GMO), and Watermelon