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CU report: Pesticide residues still too high in children’s foods

June 6, 2000
Consumers Union Washington, DC Office

Chlorpyrifos Among Pesticides Causing Excessive Residues – EPA Needs To Act But Parents Can Feed Their Children A Healthy Diet – If They Choose Wisely

WASHINGTON – As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prepares to announce measures to protect the public from unsafe exposures to the pesticide chlorpyrifos, Consumers Union today released an update to its 1999 report Do You Know What You’re Eating? That study found that pesticide residues in foods children eat every day often exceed safe levels. The follow up study reaffirms that pesticide residues on kids’ foods continue to be too high.
Each year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) tests thousands of fruit and vegetable samples – domestic and imported, fresh and processed – for pesticide residues. CU has done its own analysis of those data. The new report, Update: Pesticides in Children’s Foods, An Analysis of 1998 PDP Data on Pesticide Residues, adds the most recent year’s PDP data to CU’s earlier study.
Highlights of CU’s analysis include:

· Different foods have different pesticide residue profiles. Some contain high levels of relatively toxic residues – including winter squash, peaches, apples, pears, grapes, green beans, and spinach, and new in 1998, strawberries and cantaloupe – while others have few residues – like bananas, broccoli, canned peaches, canned/frozen peas, canned/frozen corn, milk, orange juice, apple juice, and new in 1998, grape juice.
· Parents can give their kids a healthy diet AND reduce pesticide exposures by making smart choices. They can choose foods with low residue levels, and should peel and wash high-residue foods. They should also consider organically grown varieties of high-residue foods.
· U.S.-grown produce generally is more likely to have higher residues than imported fruits and vegetables. There are a few significant exceptions – such as tomatoes grown in Mexico – but the data do not support the stereotype that imports have worse pesticide problems than domestic produce.
· Organochlorine pesticides banned in the 1970s still show up in foods that kids eat today. For instance, dieldrin remains in soil, and crops such as squash, cantaloupe, soybeans, sweet potatoes and spinach contain significant residues. Although its use is banned, FDA “action levels” permit dieldrin residues in foods that are higher than the EPA says is “safe.”
· Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide, was detected in 22 foods the PDP tested from 1994 through 1998. The highest chlorpyrifos residues show up in apples from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, tomatoes from Mexico, and domestically grown soybeans.

“It is important that parents feed their children a healthy diet containing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Edward Groth, a senior scientist at CU and one of the co-authors of the report. “Parents can feed their kids healthy foods and minimize their family’s pesticide intake, if they choose wisely.”
Under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), EPA is required to review all pesticide exposure limits to make them safer for young children. CU has called on EPA to focus its attention on high-risk pesticide uses. CU’s analysis of five years’ worth of PDP data shows that about 20 pesticides, each used on a handful of foods kids eat a lot of, collectively account for over 95 percent of the dietary risk.
“EPA could vastly reduce kids’ dietary exposure by focusing its efforts on the 100 worst pesticide-food combinations,” said Groth. “Eliminating just 100 uses – out of over 9,000 registered uses – would mitigate the risk enormously.”
EPA is scheduled to announce measures to deal with the risk from chlorpyrifos later this week. CU has called on EPA to ban all non-agricultural uses, as well as severely limit its use in agriculture. EPA appears poised to focus its decision primarily on home and garden uses.
“In addition to those risks,” Groth said, “chlorpyrifos is a major dietary risk factor on a few foods, and contributes to the overall risk on a large number of others. If EPA is serious about protecting children, it needs to eliminate these unsafe exposures. We’ll be watching closely to see what EPA does on chlorpyrifos. But just taking action on this one pesticide isn’t enough – EPA must address the other major risk drivers as well.”
EPA, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), should also reexamine “action levels” for the organochlorines. Groth said, “Current legal limits set long ago permit significant dietary exposure and risk. Lower action levels would spur growers to plant those crops that tend to take up organochlorines on uncontaminated land.”


Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumers. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.