WASHINGTON – Non-organic baby food often contains pesticides, a new Environmental Working Group study finds – but they’re likely in fewer products and may be less toxic, compared to what EWG research uncovered in 1995.
EWG’s new investigation detected nine pesticides in dozens of non-organic baby foods and none in organic products. It comes almost 30 years after we issued a groundbreaking report on how pesticides get into children’s food.
“Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks posed by pesticides in food – and food is the way most children will be exposed to pesticides,” said Sydney Evans, EWG senior science analyst and co-author of the report. “EWG’s new investigation provides vital recommendations for parents and caregivers looking to limit children’s daily pesticide exposure.”
The nine pesticides EWG found in popular baby foods in the new study included acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide that studies increasingly suggest might harm bees and humans, and captan, which is linked to cancer.
Other key findings:
- EWG sampled 73 products from three popular brands: 58 non-organic, or conventional, baby foods and 15 organic.
- At least one pesticide was detected in 22 of the conventional baby foods.
- No pesticides were detected in any of the 15 organic products.
Pesticides and children’s health
Conventional baby foods are made with fruits and vegetables grown with farming practices that can rely on large quantities of pesticides.
In contrast, organic-certified produce and products are held to much stricter standards that do not allow the use of most pesticides, which explains the absence of residues in our latest tests.
Federal oversight of pesticides in children’s food is inadequate, as explored in depth in a 1993 landmark National Academies of Science study.
And research published by EWG in 2020 found that the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees pesticide safety, fails to adequately consider children in setting legal limits for 90 percent of the most common pesticides.
Recommendations for parents and other caregivers
EWG’s report provides guidelines for how parents and other caregivers can shop for baby foods that may contain lower residues of pesticides:
- Organic is always a good choice – when available and affordable.
- Consumers can use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ when parsing baby food ingredients – its Dirty Dozen™consists of fruits and vegetables with higher pesticide residues, and the Clean Fifteen™is made up of those with minimal residues.
- If you’re making your own baby food, the lists will help you identify which fruits and vegetables might be better choices.
Progress since 1995
Lab tests EWG commissioned for its 1995 study found 16 pesticides in eight types of baby foods made by the three companies that then dominated the market. An eye-popping 53 percent of 72 baby food products sampled had residue of at least one pesticide.
By comparison, this year’s study found pesticide residue in 38 percent of non-organic foods tested.
The pesticides detected in 1995 were, on average, far more toxic and dangerous for infants to ingest – like the brain-damaging chlorpyrifos, which in very small amounts can permanently damage the health of babies and children. In 2021, the EPA banned all uses of chlorpyrifos on food, a move EWG had advocated for years.
“Advocacy works,” Evans said. “Any pesticide residue in baby food is concerning, but parents should feel reassured that some of the most toxic chemicals we found in our 1995 study are no longer being detected.”
EWG will continue its research on pesticides and children’s food to protect everyone by advocating to get these chemicals off all fruits and vegetables.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.