A new study in the United States suggests feeding children organically grown food can substantially lower the levels of pesticide residues to which their kids are exposed.
While other studies have documented the presence of pesticide metabolites, or breakdown products of the synthetic chemicals, in children’s bodies, this is the first study to document the difference in exposures to pesticides by an organic versus a conventional diet, says Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C.
The researchers measured six metabolites that derive from some 39 organophosphorus (cct) pesticides, the most commonly used in the United States and also some of the most toxic. They compared a group of 18 organic-eating children with 21 conventional food-eating children, all roughly the same age (2-5 years old, on average), gender, and of similar family income. The children with primarily organic diets had far lower levels of the metabolites in their bodies.
The study, which appeared in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences journal, “Environmental Health Perspectives” and will be forthcoming in print this spring.
“It’s definitely a big step ahead” says Wiles. “It proves what we’ve said all along, that eating food with more pesticide residues can make a difference in what gets into the body” he added.
Now Wiles and his group are hoping to convince the USDA to inform consumers of the findings, which may be a challenge. “The USDA has always insisted that organic is no safer, but it is safer with respect to pesticide exposure, as this study shows” says Wiles in a statement on the group’s Web Site.
Representatives of the agricultural chemical industry downplayed the significance of the study.
“We can speculate all day about the possibilities of what those pesticide exposures might mean for children, but these researchers haven’t proven that these children are having their health harmed in any way” said Ray McAllister of Crop Life America, a trade association representing manufactures and distributors of agricultural chemicals. “In fact, those metabolites are not toxic to the children” he added.
But some scientists familiar with the study disagree.
“The sheer presence of a metabolite shows exposure to these toxic pesticides” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Centre for Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Just how toxic those exposures were to the children is difficult to say, said Richard Fenske, one of the researchers involved in the study. The metabolites in question could derive from any of a number of organophosphorus compounds in use on fruits and vegetables, some of which are more toxic than others.