[X] CLOSEMAIN MENU

  • Archives

  • Categories

    • Announcements (586)
    • Antibiotic Resistance (15)
    • Antimicrobial (5)
    • Aquaculture (25)
    • Aquatic Organisms (16)
    • Bats (1)
    • Beneficials (34)
    • Biofuels (6)
    • Biological Control (17)
    • Biomonitoring (32)
    • Birds (11)
    • btomsfiolone (1)
    • Bug Bombs (1)
    • Canada (10)
    • Cannabis (27)
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (8)
    • Children (42)
    • Children/Schools (225)
    • Climate Change (46)
    • Clover (1)
    • compost (1)
    • contamination (96)
    • Disinfectants & Sanitizers (7)
    • Emergency Exemption (2)
    • Environmental Justice (126)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (208)
    • Events (82)
    • Farm Bill (10)
    • Farmworkers (142)
    • Fertilizer (5)
    • fish (5)
    • Forestry (2)
    • Fracking (4)
    • Fungicides (9)
    • Goats (2)
    • Golf (11)
    • Greenhouse (1)
    • Health care (32)
    • Herbicides (1)
    • Holidays (24)
    • Household Use (4)
    • Indigenous People (1)
    • Infectious Disease (2)
    • Integrated and Organic Pest Management (62)
    • International (335)
    • Invasive Species (29)
    • Label Claims (47)
    • Lawns/Landscapes (206)
    • Litigation (304)
    • Livestock (5)
    • Microbiata (8)
    • Microbiome (7)
    • Nanosilver (2)
    • Nanotechnology (54)
    • National Politics (386)
    • Occupational Health (1)
    • Pesticide Drift (143)
    • Pesticide Efficacy (2)
    • Pesticide Mixtures (1)
    • Pesticide Regulation (701)
    • Pesticide Residues (157)
    • Pets (21)
    • Plant Incorporated Protectants (1)
    • Preemption (23)
    • Repellent (1)
    • Resistance (91)
    • Rodenticide (25)
    • Seeds (2)
    • synergistic effects (5)
    • Synthetic Pyrethroids (4)
    • Take Action (487)
    • Textile/Apparel/Fashion Industry (1)
    • Toxic Waste (3)
    • Wildlife/Endangered Sp. (360)
    • Wood Preservatives (24)
    • World Health Organization (3)
  • Most Viewed Posts

Daily News Blog

18
Sep

Consumer Reports Study Rates Foods with Pesticide Residues; Doesn’t Include Worker, Environmental Justice, Biodiversity Impacts

(Beyond Pesticides, September 18, 2020) In late August, Consumer Reports magazine (CR) issued a report titled, “Stop Eating Pesticides,” which offers consumers a rating system CR developed and employed to help them “get the health benefits from fruits and vegetables while minimizing [the] risk from toxic chemicals.” In addition to providing its analysis and ratings of the pesticide risk of a variety of produce items, CR recommends eating organically grown and raised foods whenever possible. It also makes a host of recommendations on federal pesticide policies and emphasizes the importance of maintaining the integrity of the National Organic Standards (of the USDA-housed National Organic Program). Beyond Pesticides appreciates that this mainstream publication has arrived at many shared, science-based assessments of the risks of pesticides. That said, a wholesale transition to organic and regenerative agriculture — rather than making the public figure out which fruits and vegetables are “safer” or “less safe” — is the real answer to the health risks of pesticides in the food supply, according to Beyond Pesticides.

The CR analysis used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Pesticide Data Program for 2014–2018. Those pesticide residue data were compiled from tests of approximately 450 pesticides across 24,000 samples of 35 different fruits and vegetables. The analysis evaluated both conventionally grown, meaning produce that’s typically been treated with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and organically grown produce; it also reviewed both U.S. produced and imported items. CR based its ratings on four criteria: the number of pesticides found on each item, the average amount of residue of each pesticide found on the items, the frequency with which pesticides were found on samples, and the toxicity of the pesticides detected.

Embedded in the ratings is consideration of the number of child-size servings (i.e., 2/3 of an adult serving) of a fruit or vegetable item that could be consumed before the exposures could represent potential harm. The analysis was normed for a 35-pound child (the weight of an average four-year-old); adults would likely consume more in a serving, but CR says the relative risk would remain the same. CR notes that “in some cases, those levels exceed what CR’s experts consider safe.” See more on CR’s rating methodology here.

Based on the criteria mentioned, CR assigned Excellent or Very Good ratings to the “cleanest” produce, and Fair or Poor to the items that scored as most risky. One of the consultants to CR’s project was Charles Benbrook, PhD, an agricultural economist, former executive director of the National Academy of Sciences board on agriculture, and former research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University. He notes that, in order to “minimize the chance that risks are underestimated,” CR used “EPA’s chronic reference dose for each pesticide (the amount it considers not likely to cause harm over a lifetime), then applied the FQPA [Food Quality Protection Act] safety factor to known neurological toxins or suspected endocrine disruptors — even when the EPA doesn’t.”

CR writes, “This means that fruits and vegetables with residue of many different pesticides can still receive a rating of Very Good or even Excellent if the amounts are low compared with the level we consider harmful, or if the pesticides have a low toxicity. But others rate poorly if they have even a very small amount of a more dangerous pesticide.” On the face of it, rating a produce item with residue of many different pesticides as Very Good or Excellent would seem to contravene CR’s acknowledgement of EPA’s inadequate regulatory attention to exposures to multiple pesticide compounds. (See more on EPA and multiple exposure risks, below.)

CR’s report rates, for example, U.S. grown, non-organic broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, bulb onions, tomatoes, cranberries, oranges, and a few other items as Excellent, and domestic green beans, potatoes, spinach, peaches, and cherries as Poor. Nearly all of the domestic organic items rated fell into the Excellent category, with organic spinach being a notable exception. The report says that 33 pesticides were found on 76% of those samples. However, CR explains that the probable reason is that pesticides banned in organic agriculture can drift from fields where non-organic crops are grown — a common and growing problem, especially with increasing use of pesticides that pair with genetically engineered commodity crops, such as soybeans, cotton, and corn. Senior CR scientist Michael Hansen, PhD, comments, “The vast majority of the USDA data show that while pesticides are sometimes found on organic foods, the levels are usually 10 percent or less of what’s found on nonorganic, which would be consistent with drift from a neighboring field. When levels on organic and nonorganic are similar, government agencies should take a closer look.” Notably, imported produce often, though not always, had poorer ratings than domestic items.

The CR article chronicles a number of health risks associated with pesticide exposures, even at low levels, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, reproductive dysfunction, respiratory problems (e.g., asthma, bronchitis), neurological impacts (e.g., developmental effects and dementia/Alzheimer’s), and endocrine dysfunction, among others. To its credit, the report also includes a section on the shortcomings of federal pesticide policy, which notes that CR’s own “experts say the government hasn’t upheld its responsibility to protect consumers [and that] the research used to set [pesticide residue] tolerances is imperfect, and they’re often too high.” The report also calls out the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is primarily responsible for pesticide regulation, for multiple failures.

One is the failure to use the mandated FQPA “safety factor” (which establishes more-protective limits on residues) 85% of the time, from 2011 through 2019, for non-organophosphate pesticides. Another is that, despite the requirement of the FQPA to review registered pesticides for endocrine-disrupting impacts, by 2020 EPA has done this for only 52 of the roughly 9,000 pesticide compounds approved for use in the U.S. Dr. Hansen comments, “The tests the EPA uses to approve pesticides don’t take into account new evidence on pesticide harms, and it hasn’t incorporated many new scientific techniques.”

CR also points to some of the failings of EPA’s pesticide regulation that Beyond Pesticides has long discussed: relative inattention to the impacts of so-called “inert” or adjuvant ingredients in pesticide products; and reviewing (and registering) pesticides as single entities or classes, when in real life, people are often exposed to multiple pesticides. Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California, Berkeley, comments, “What we should be looking at is the whole swimming pool of chemicals that we’re exposed to.”

In recognizing the risks of pesticide residue in food and the importance to health of consuming a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (the goal being 4½ cups daily for most adults), CR underscores the conundrum the public faces. If conventional produce is contaminated with pesticides, what are consumers to do? The CR report says that they “can minimize the risk by choosing fruits and vegetables grown with fewer and safer pesticides.” To that end, the analysis proposes to “help consumers identify which produce poses the biggest risk from pesticides,” and asserts that the “good news” is that nearly “half of the nonorganic fruits and vegetables pose little risk. But about 20 percent, such as fresh green beans, peaches, and potatoes, received our worst scores; those are the ones it’s most important to try to buy organic. . . . For the lowest-scoring items, eating a half of a serving or less per day poses long-term health risks to a young child.” Beyond Pesticides believes that warning is more than warranted.

Choosing organic for the “worst” produce items is an incremental approach that does yield somewhat lower risks to eaters. Indeed, Beyond Pesticides has often covered the annual Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty DozenTM” and “Clean 15” guides to avoiding pesticide residue in foods. The “simplest” answer is to consume organic fare as much as is practicable. Yet that is not necessarily easy for everyone, whether it’s a matter of availability or price. This is one reason that those who can purchase most or all of their food as organic, should: it helps scale up organic production and, as organics occupy increasing market share over time, potentially bring prices more in line with conventional pricing. This is a short-term, market-based strategy; the equitable and most-protective strategy is to transition to organic agricultural practices, which nearly eliminate the risks of chemical exposures through food.

A decade ago, Beyond Pesticides addressed the affordability issue in a comprehensive article in its journal, Pesticides and You, which spelled out the “invisible” aspects of affordability. The article noted that a simple comparison of retail prices is a misleading metric on the cost of organic vs. conventional produce because “it overlooks the glaring fact that conventional farm operations do not incur the total cost of their production. Chemical-intensive agriculture has countless negative effects on our health and natural resources, which are not accounted for in most traditional farm business models, but [which] are passed on to society nevertheless. Some researchers calculate the adverse impacts to health and the environment to be as much as $16.9 billion a year [as of 2011] . . . . We still pay these costs, just not at the grocery checkout counter. Instead, we see these costs in the forms of higher taxes and medical bills, and decreased quality of life due to environmental pollution. Conversely, organic farmers take steps to ensure that they do not create these effects, which result in external costs. Instead, they internalize them and take care not to damage and deplete natural resources or create public health problems.”

Beyond Pesticides would add to this personal and societal calculation the consideration that consumption of conventionally grown produce — even those items that score well in CR’s analysis — takes both environmental and social justice tolls at the sites of food production and processing. Farmworkers, ecosystems, and biodiversity are notoriously negatively impacted by the use of pesticides. Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman notes: “We contribute to environmental racism when we eat conventionally grown food because the regulation and risk assessments that support our chemical-intensive food system institutionalize disproportionate risk for black and brown people.” CR senior policy analyst Dr. Charlotte Vallaeys is quoted in the article: “The effects of pesticides on the people who grow and harvest our food is a big part of the reason CR recommends buying organic when you can.”

Beyond Pesticides’ 2020 Labor Day Daily News Blog article added, “Our work . . . will continue to seek changes in underlying policies that codify disproportionate harm, such as federal pesticide law that is built on a foundation that allows elevated and disproportionate risk to workers who are excluded from EPA’s cumulative risk assessment (under the Food Quality Protection Act, amendments to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act), which aggregates dietary and non-dietary, but explicitly not occupational, exposure to pesticides, while including a mandate to protect children. With this, the law effectively requires EPA to allow higher rates of harm for workers, particularly farmworkers [and] landscapers (who are disproportionately people of color), and others occupationally exposed to pesticides.”

The CR article acknowledges that there are big knowledge gaps about impacts of pesticides on human health, never mind on ecosystems, and says, “Laws governing the use of pesticides on produce in the U.S. are based, at least in theory, on a philosophy of avoiding potential risk in the absence of definitive proof of their harm.” The glaring failing in this EPA approach to regulation is the lack of a precautionary framework. As as Dr. Vallaeys notes in the article, “It makes sense that we should err on the side of caution and base decisions about pesticide use not just on what we know but also on what we don’t yet know.” EPA’s current policies and practices essentially allow chemical experimentation on the U.S. population without the public’s permission, and without benefit of understanding what the impacts of various pesticides will be, given multiple, chronic, and ubiquitous exposures.

Among CR’s recommendations are these:

  • Ban the agricultural use of the riskiest pesticides, which would protect children, especially, as well as farmworkers and rural communities.
  • EPA should, as it is mandated to do, apply the FQPA safety factor to all neurotoxins, suspected endocrine disruptors, and any pesticide whose safety is uncertain.
  • EPA should make available a public, easily accessible and searchable database of currently registered pesticides, including information on whether the FQPA safety factor was applied when tolerance levels were set.
  • Place an import alert on produce that tests positive for banned pesticides. (Pesticides banned in the U.S. sometimes show up on samples of imported produce in the Pesticide Data Program databases.) USDA should apprise the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for enacting and enforcing import alerts, when such residues are detected.

Beyond Pesticides hopes that the Consumer Reports article, given the vaunted independence of the publication, will make inroads in educating the public about the dangers of pesticides. Stay updated on the relationships between pesticides and health, as well as the many other impacts of their use, via the Daily News Blog and the quarterly journal Pesticides and You, and through supporting the mission of Beyond Pesticides: “protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides” by becoming a member. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience.

Source: https://www.consumerreports.org/pesticides-in-food/stop-eating-pesticides/

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

Share

Leave a Reply

  • Archives

  • Categories

    • Announcements (586)
    • Antibiotic Resistance (15)
    • Antimicrobial (5)
    • Aquaculture (25)
    • Aquatic Organisms (16)
    • Bats (1)
    • Beneficials (34)
    • Biofuels (6)
    • Biological Control (17)
    • Biomonitoring (32)
    • Birds (11)
    • btomsfiolone (1)
    • Bug Bombs (1)
    • Canada (10)
    • Cannabis (27)
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (8)
    • Children (42)
    • Children/Schools (225)
    • Climate Change (46)
    • Clover (1)
    • compost (1)
    • contamination (96)
    • Disinfectants & Sanitizers (7)
    • Emergency Exemption (2)
    • Environmental Justice (126)
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (208)
    • Events (82)
    • Farm Bill (10)
    • Farmworkers (142)
    • Fertilizer (5)
    • fish (5)
    • Forestry (2)
    • Fracking (4)
    • Fungicides (9)
    • Goats (2)
    • Golf (11)
    • Greenhouse (1)
    • Health care (32)
    • Herbicides (1)
    • Holidays (24)
    • Household Use (4)
    • Indigenous People (1)
    • Infectious Disease (2)
    • Integrated and Organic Pest Management (62)
    • International (335)
    • Invasive Species (29)
    • Label Claims (47)
    • Lawns/Landscapes (206)
    • Litigation (304)
    • Livestock (5)
    • Microbiata (8)
    • Microbiome (7)
    • Nanosilver (2)
    • Nanotechnology (54)
    • National Politics (386)
    • Occupational Health (1)
    • Pesticide Drift (143)
    • Pesticide Efficacy (2)
    • Pesticide Mixtures (1)
    • Pesticide Regulation (701)
    • Pesticide Residues (157)
    • Pets (21)
    • Plant Incorporated Protectants (1)
    • Preemption (23)
    • Repellent (1)
    • Resistance (91)
    • Rodenticide (25)
    • Seeds (2)
    • synergistic effects (5)
    • Synthetic Pyrethroids (4)
    • Take Action (487)
    • Textile/Apparel/Fashion Industry (1)
    • Toxic Waste (3)
    • Wildlife/Endangered Sp. (360)
    • Wood Preservatives (24)
    • World Health Organization (3)
  • Most Viewed Posts