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Daily News Blog

09
Jul

From Udder to Table: Toxic Pesticides Found in Conventional Milk, Not Organic Milk

(Beyond Pesticides, July 9, 2020) Conventional U.S. milk contains growth hormones, antibiotics, and low to elevated levels of pesticides not found in organic milk, according to a study published in the journal of Public Health Nutrition by Emory University researchers. Milk can bioaccumulate certain organic pollutants, making it a valuable medium to assess what chemical we might be ingesting daily. With milk being one of the most consumed beverages in the U.S., in addition to its use in other popular drinks (i.e., coffee and tea), this study discloses widespread contamination and highlights the need for improved regulation. Researchers in the study note, “To our knowledge, the present study is the first study to compare levels of pesticide in the U.S. milk supply by production method (conventional vs. organic). It is also the first in a decade to measure antibiotic and hormone levels and compare them by milk production type.” 

The market for conventional milk, produced in chemical-intensive agriculture, is declining, but the demand for organic milk is increasing due to concerns over chemical contamination in consumer products from pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits for pesticide residues in food products, the agency fails to assess aggregate pesticide exposure and the accompanying risks. Milk is a staple in many Americans’ diets, especially children and developing youth who continue to consume it into adulthood. In addition to being the first to assess the degree to which toxic chemicals like pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones (synthetic) exist in commercial milk, this research demonstrates how chemical concentration levels in milk vary among organic and conventional, non-organic milk production. Researchers at Emory University state, “Little is known about the real-life, often prolonged exposure to combinations of pesticides that may compound any effect.”

The researchers investigated the difference between residues in conventional and organic milk by examining milk samples for current-use pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones (i.e., bovine growth hormone [bGH] and insulin-like growth factor 1 [IGF-1]). Scientists obtained milk samples from four half-gallon U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) labeled organic and four half-gallon non-organic milk cartons, from nine U.S. regions. The regions include California, Great Lakes, Midwest, New England, New York, Northwest, Rocky Mountain Southeast, and Southwest. Six of the eight half-gallon cartons are 2% milk, a majority of what most American children drink, and the remaining two are whole milk. Researchers determined residue levels in milk samples using liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry. Lastly, researchers compared the results of the study to that of chemical residue levels established by federal tolerances.

All conventional, non-organic milk samples have residues of current-use pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones, not present in organic samples, according to the study. Researchers detect low to elevated levels of current-use pesticide residues in conventional milk samples. The pesticides include atrazine (26%), permethrin (46%), cypermethrin (49%), chlorpyrifos (59%), and diazinon (60%). Additionally, the study finds that antibiotic residue levels in conventional milk samples surpass federal limits for amoxicillin (3%), and illegal sulfamethazine (37%) and sulfathiazole (26%). Concentration levels of growth hormones bGH and IGF-1 are 20 and three times greater in conventional milk samples than organic samples, respectively. The research did detect the presence of legacy pesticides—pesticides banned for use but remain environmentally persistent—in both non-organic and organic samples, hexachlorobenzene, ppDDT, and ppDDE (a DDT metabolite). However, legacy pesticide residue levels remain higher in conventional milk samples than organic.  

This research indicates a lack of information surrounding the chemicals that contaminate commercial consumer goods like milk. The Organic Center’s director of science programs, Jessica Shade, PhD, mentions, “This study finds that the presence of antibiotics and pesticides in conventional milk is much more prevalent and pervasive than previously thought.”

Many studies document occupational and residential pesticide exposure from point source pesticide applications. Sprays, granular baits, and other pesticide application methods directly expose pesticide applicators and adjacent communities to the harmful effects of these toxic chemicals, even at low levels. However, pesticides can move from non-point applications and contaminate commercial products that are ingested (i.e., drinking waterfood), inhaled (i.e., cigarettesnano-silver laced masks) or absorbed (i.e., pet productssoaps, and other antimicrobials). A 2015 study reveals heptachlor contaminated milk in Hawaii increased the risk of developing the degenerative disorder Parkinson’s disease.

International retail milk also faces similar pesticide contamination issues as a 2020 study finds eight different types of insecticides and fungicides, in addition to other chemicals, present in Israeli milk samples. Although EPA and FDA set legal limits on chemical residues in consumer products, the agencies often fail to enforce the law.

The USDA oversees the organic certification process and ensures organic farms comply with organic regulations. However, the organic industry has a problem when it comes to the issue of milk production and factory farms. Several exposés uncover how USDA fails to enforce National Organic Program regulations on larger dairy farms. In 2017, the Washington Post investigated the Aurora Organic Dairy farm in Colorado and found, “Signs of grazing were sparse.[…] The number of cows seen on pasture numbered only in the hundreds.[…] At no point was any more than 10 percent of the herd out.” The Post sent milk samples from the farm to Virginia Tech for analysis, confirming these cows produce conventional (non-organic) milk. Previously, the organic agriculture watchdog group Cornucopia Institute filed a complaint with USDA against the same dairy farm for violating the organic grazing rules. Grazing is vital in organic milk production. Consumers expect that the organic milk they drink comes from cows that are pastured because it is better for the cows and for the people who drink their milk. Despite the discrete issues within the organic industry, organic milk remains a healthier option in comparison to conventional, non-organic.  

Past studies find organic milk and grass-fed milk—with similar practices—to be healthier. Specifically, organic milk contains 62% more omega-3 fatty acids and 25% fewer omega-6s. An unbalanced ratio of more omega-6 to omega-3s can cause severe health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other illnesses. Nevertheless, higher consumption of omega-3s reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and many other chronic disorders. Organic foods can mitigate exposure to pesticides due to the method in which farmers grow and prepare food. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recognizes that organic food is lower pesticide residues, making it significantly better for child consumption. Children are especially sensitive to pesticide exposure as their bodies are still developing. Additionally, pesticide exposure early on in life heightens the risks of developing chronic diseases, like diabetes, various cancers, neurological disorders, and more.

This research provides evidence that levels of chemical contaminant residues in conventional, non-organic milk greatly surpass that of organic. While organic contains no detectable levels of current-use pesticides, all non-organic samples do. Four milk samples exceed the federal limits for the pesticide residue, with 59% of sampling containing the highly neurotoxic, insecticide chlorpyrifos residue. Chlorpyrifos is of special concern, as states including Hawaii, California, New York, and Maryland, are phasing out most of its agricultural uses, after EPA negotiated chlorpyrifos’s withdrawal from most of the residential market because of neurotoxic effects to children in 2000. Current chlorpyrifos use is on golf courses and row crops like corn, soybeans, fruit/nut trees, brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. Human exposure to chlorpyrifos can induce endocrine disruption, reproductive dysfunction, fetal defects, neurotoxic damage, and kidney/liver damage. Chlorpyrifos is highly toxic to bees, birds, and aquatic organisms.

Studies like this one demonstrate the need for improved monitoring of consumer products to ensure product safety. Although skeptics question the use of liquid chromatography to accurately detect levels of chemical residues, instead of the FDA approved inhibition method, detection alone is enough of a concern. Jean Welsh, PhD, a preeminent author of the Emory University study and a nutritional epidemiologist, states that not enough is known about the impact of these chemicals. Additionally, Drs. Shade and Welsh react to the study results, implying “[a] need [for] further research to see how chronic, low levels of antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones impact health in the long term.”

Beyond Pesticides believes that we must eliminate pesticide use that contaminates consumer products by converting to organic practices to eliminate the hazards associated with pesticide exposure. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which curtail the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices. Regenerative organic agriculture revitalizes soil health through organic carbon sequestration, while reducing pests and generating higher return than chemical-intensive agriculture. It is vital to continue to support organic food production and maintain the integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic label. For more information about organic food production, visit Beyond Pesticides Keep Organic Strong webpage. Learn more about the adverse health and environmental effects chemical-intensive farming poses for various crops and how eating organic produce reduces pesticide exposure. Additionally, learn more about the implications of pesticides on human health by visiting Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database. This database supports the clear need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. 

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Public Health Nutrition, USA Today

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One Response to “From Udder to Table: Toxic Pesticides Found in Conventional Milk, Not Organic Milk”

  1. 1
    SouthVilleMaelk Says:

    Organic Cow Milk Delhi is highly recommended for babies as well as adults due to its immense benefits some of which are: Farm fresh cow milk has higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which is required for healthy growth.

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