Conventional Poisons


Twenty-five years after the National Academy of Sciences issued a landmark report raising concerns about children’s exposure to toxic pesticides through their diets, most Americans still consume a significant mixture of pesticides every day.

The EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, recently released by the Department of Agriculture, found that nearly 70% of samples of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues.

The USDA tests found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide residues on the thousands of produce samples analyzed. Key findings from this year’s guide include:

  • More than one-third of strawberry samples analyzed in 2016 contained 10 or more pesticide residues and breakdown products.
  • More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, peaches, potatoes, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
  • Spinach samples had, on average, almost twice as much pesticide residue by weight compared to any other crop.
  • Avocados and sweet corn were shown to be the cleanest. Less than one percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides. One likely reason for this was that both avocados and corn are naturally protected from applied pesticides by a hard skin or a multi-layerd husk. Corn, however, when grown “conventionally” may be genetically modified and potentially influenced by systemic pesticides.

The impact of pesticides on human fertility continues to be a major concern for humanity. Recent studies from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a surprising association between high-pesticide-residue produce and fertility problems among study participants. Women who reported eating two or more servings per day of produce with higher pesticide residues were 26 % less likely to have a successful pregnancy during the study than participants who ate fewer servings of these foods. Male participants who ate high-residue produce had poorer sperm quality.

Brain health and pesticides exposure is also an issue, especially for children. The neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause harm to the brains and nervous system of children, is still applied to apples, bell peppers, peaches, nectarines and other produce.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was slated to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos on foods in early 2017. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course after Dow Chemical, which manufactures the chemical, complained. The American Academy of Pediatrics and EWG urged Pruitt to reconsider his decision, to no avail.  

“There is a reason pediatricians encourage parents to consult EWG’s guide and take other steps to reduce their child’s exposure pesticides,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Pesticides can cause harm to infants, babies and young children at even low levels.”