Using Organic Food to Keep Chemicals Out of Children
(Beyond Pesticides, November 8, 2005) The numbers of parents purchasing organic food in an effort to keep their children's diet free of food grown with pesticides, hormones, antibiotics or genetic engineering is increasing. A recent study from Emory University (see Daily News) found if a child’s diet is converted from conventional to organic food it can impact exposures to pesticides commonly used in U.S. agricultural production.
According to the Associated Press (AP), AC Neilsen marketing ratings showed sales of organic baby food jumped to nearly 18 percent since 2004, which is double the overall growth of organic food sales. Beyond baby food, dairy and produce, snacks are also a rapidly growing segment of organic food, according to the Organic Trade Association, an industry group.
Due to the rise in demand, organic food for children is now available in stores in addition to natural food stores. For example, Earth's Best baby food, a mainstay in Whole Foods and Wild Oats markets, just reached a national distribution deal with Toys R Us and Babies R Us according to AP. Gerber is selling organic baby food under its Tender Harvest label. Stonyfield Farm's YoBaby yogurt can be found in supermarkets across the country.
Children are a concern because they face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure.
AP reported new government-funded research adds to the concern. A study of children whose diets were changed from regular to organic found their pesticide levels plunged almost immediately. The amount of pesticide detected in the children remained imperceptible until their diets were switched back to conventional food.
According to AP, "We didn't expect that to drop in such dramatic fashion," said Emory University's Chensheng Lu, who led the Environmental Protection Agency-funded research. Lu's findings will be published in February in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Scientists are still trying to figure out how pesticides affect children, Lu said, but he notes that it took years to prove the health hazards of lead.
It appears uncertainty is driving parents, especially new or expecting mothers, to switch to organic food. Many are even making their own baby food from organic ingredients. Resources to parents such as the traveling lecture series with nutritionist Jody Villecco, for Whole Foods and Mothering magazine, provides demonstrations such as shaving a peeled banana with a knife to make mush. According to Villecco, "There, we just made baby food." She also recommends people make baby food in big batches and freeze it in ice cube trays.
Some say organic is not cheap. For those who feel they they can't afford the food or don't want to search for it or make it can buy fruits and vegetables that are known to have lower pesticide residues. The Environmental Working Group, has produced a guide to the pesticide levels in fruits and vegetables commonly sold in grocery stores, basing the findings on data from the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration.
According to the guide the lowest pesticide levels are found in asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, kiwi, mangos, onions, papaya, pineapples and sweet peas. The highest pesticide levels, meanwhile, are found in apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
TAKE ACTION: Whenever possible, buy organic food for your family. Familiarize yourself with the Environmental Working Group’s list of foods with the highest and lowest pesticide residues.