A study of food contaminants in California

16 Nov

Above is the cover of the report referred to in a recent alarming article in the Mail Online. Though the Mail focused only on the effect of pesticides in food on Californian children, the report looked at the effects of a wide range of chemicals.

The abstract is here: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/11/1/83/abstract and the full text can be downloaded here: http://www.ehjournal.net/content/pdf/1476-069X-11-83.pdf

Though consumption of organically produced food is recommended, the authors declare that they have no competing interests.

From the report

Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all children (100%) for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. Non-cancer benchmarks were exceeded by >95% of preschool-age children for acrylamide and by 10% of preschool-age children for mercury.

Preschool-age children had significantly higher estimated intakes of 6 of 11 compounds compared to school-age children (p<0.0001 to p=0.02). Based on self-reported dietary data, the greatest exposure to pesticides from foods included in this analysis were tomatoes, peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, dairy, pears, green beans, and celery.

Some conclusions

Dietary strategies to reduce exposure to toxic compounds for which cancer and non-cancer benchmarks are exceeded by children vary by compound. These strategies include consuming organically produced dairy and selected fruits and vegetables to reduce pesticide intake, consuming less animal foods (meat, dairy, and fish) to reduce intake of persistent organic pollutants and metals, and consuming lower quantities of chips, cereal, crackers, and other processed carbohydrate foods to reduce acrylamide intake.

Based on our calculations of food items that contribute most to intake in this sample, reducing exposure to pesticides is possible by substituting organic produce and milk for non-organic produce and milk. It may come as a surprise that milk, in addition to fruits and vegetables, was found to be a top contributor to intake of chlorpyrifos. This can be explained by the application of chlorpyrifos to grazing fields or feed given to dairy cattle, which is prohibited in organic milk production

Consumers can potentially lower their exposure to current use pesticides by selecting types of conventionally grown produce with lower measured levels of pesticides . . .

Considering that some of the produce items high in pesticides are among the highest consumed fruits and vegetables in the U.S., it may be more effective to target agricultural production practices rather than consumer food choices to increase availability (and lower the cost) of organically grown tomatoes, peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, and strawberries, for example.

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