(Beyond Pesticides, December 8, 2023) Nine pesticides have been found in nearly 40% of nonorganic conventional baby foods tested, according to a study conducted by Environmental Working Group (EWG). The study found no residues of the pesticides studied in a sample of certified organic baby food. While the study finds no traces of the highly neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos, associated with brain damage in children, the chemical has been allowed back on the agricultural market after being removed in 2021â€”raising an alarm for parents who purchase baby food with ingredients grown in chemical-intensive (â€śconventionalâ€ť) agriculture. In November 2023, a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of AppealsÂ reversedÂ a 2021 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to ban chlorpyrifosâ€™ agricultural uses, which came after a 2021 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that the agencyâ€™s inaction violated federal pesticide law. Because of its neurotoxic effects on children, EPA had in 2000 negotiated Dow Chemicalâ€™s voluntary cancellation of most residential uses of the chemical, but left virtually all of the chemicalâ€™s agricultural uses in place.
While the EWG study focuses on pesticide residues in food and the hazards associated with ingestion of dangerous chemicals, raising alarms, purchasing baby food processed with nonorganic ingredients results in a cascade of adverse effects associated with the farmworker and farmworker childrenâ€™s (bystander) exposure during agricultural production and adverse effects to the ecosystem where the crops are grown, including impacts on wildlife (including pollinators and threatened and endangered species), waterways and aquatic life, in addition to fenceline communities suffering from chemical drift. See Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ Eating with a Conscience database for a crop-by-crop (ingredient-by-ingredient) rundown of pesticides used in chemical-intensive agricultural production that may not show up as residues in baby food and the food supply.
News reports in the last several years have warned that baby foods may have dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, which prompted two Congressional Reports in 2021. Amidst parental worries about toxins, recent evidence indicates the presence of toxic pesticides in baby food, compounding the toxic load that disproportionately impacts underserved communities.
EWG examined 73 baby food products, including 58 conventional and 15 organic baby foods from Beech-Nut, Gerber, and Parentâ€™s Choice. Among the conventional baby foods, EWG identified pesticide residues in 22 samples. The cohort of organic products tested, with a finding of no residues, includes 15 products.
Health risks of the identified pesticides include cancers, reproductive toxicity, nervous system damage, harm to the immune system, and possible harm to fetal development. See the links below for more information on the nine pesticides that were detected in the conventional baby food:
- Captan:11 baby foods
- Acetamiprid: 5 baby foods
- Fludioxonil: 5 baby foods
- Pyrimethanil: 4 baby foods
- Imidacloprid : 3 baby foods
- Methoxyfenozide: 2 baby foods
- Propiconazole: 1 baby food
- Chlorantraniliprole: 1 baby food
- Dodine: 1 baby food
Children’s developing organs are especially vulnerable to toxic pesticides and infant exposure to pesticides can result in significant harm. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports, â€śChildren encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.â€ť Kids are more at risk of pesticide exposure compared to adults due to factors such as the timing of organ development, their inclination to play close to the ground, the frequent hand-to-mouth behavior, and the higher intake of air and food relative to their body weight. Scientists use the term “critical windows of vulnerability,” to describe the periods in childhood development that are linked to increased likelihood of long-term effects like cancer.
Jay Feldman, the director of Beyond Pesticides said, â€śThe juxtaposition between pesticides in conventional baby food and no pesticides in organic baby food underscores the importance of purchasing organic. In addition to the individual residues found, EPAâ€™s risk assessment process does not account for dietary exposure to chemical mixtures from Â pesticides in conventional foods. Consumers, through their purchasing decisions, have tremendous power in not only limiting their childrenâ€™s exposure to pesticides, but also limiting exposure to those working and living in agricultural communities where pesticides are used, in addition to the ecosystems that support life. These constellation of factors is what makes purchasing organic products so important.â€ť
Many argue that organic food comes with a higher price tag compared to “conventional” food produced through chemical-intensive farming. However, this assessment overlooks the significant externalities associated with the chemical-intensive system. In other words, these costs are not directly covered by the farmer or the consumer but are eventually borne by society as a whole including air, soil, and water contamination, health effects suffered by consumers, farmworkers, and the public. To learn more about eating organic on a budget, reference Beyond Pesticides articles on eating local on a budget and how to get access to organic food economically which includes advice on eating less-expensive home-prepared foods, eating seasonally and local produce from farmers markets, stocking up on food, and choosing simple recipes.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.