Pesticides in Baby Food: Conclusions and Recommendations
Pesticides are routinely found in baby food consumed by infants in their first six months of life. The levels are typically well below federal standards, but these standards are too high because they do not specifically incorporate any special protections for infants or young children. The toxicological significance of these residues is not known, but is cause for concern.
In our study, 16 pesticides were detected in the 8 foods tested. Fruits contained more pesticides and at higher levels, than vegetables. For example, iprodione, a probable human carcinogen found only in peaches and plums, was found in more samples and at higher average levels than any other pesticide.
Multiple pesticides were common in all fruits and two of the vegetables tested, although no single sample had more than two detectable pesticides in it. Five different pesticides were found in pears, four in applesauce, and three in peaches, plums, and green beans.
In contrast, mixed garden vegetables or the pea/carrot combination had no detectable pesticides at all, while sweet potatoes contained just one pesticide, which was found in six of nine samples. All of these results were quite similar to those reported by FDA for the years 1985 through 1991.
Specific foods generally were contaminated with the same pesticides. On the whole, no single company's products were significantly less contaminated than any other's.
Current standards for pesticides in food do not specifically account for the special vulnerability of infants. They do not account for the additive or potentially greater than additive toxicity of pesticide combinations in baby food. And they do not account for the additive effects of pesticide exposure from sources such as contaminated tap water used to reconstitute infant formula or juice, or home and garden use of pesticides.
Congress is proceeding aggressively with legislation that will weaken federal health standards for pesticide residues in food, including wholesale repeal of the Delaney clause of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which provides special protections for consumers of processed foods, such as baby food, by prohibiting any amount of cancer causing pesticides that concentrate during food processing.
If the Congress is successful in weakening current pesticide standards it is likely that more pesticides will find their way into baby food. Certainly, growers will have access to pesticides that would not meet current health and safety standards, and baby food producers will need to be more vigilant in policing raw crops that they use to produce baby food.
Our data show that the United States needs pesticide safety standards for infants and young children because infants and young children are exposed to pesticides as soon as they begin to eat food. Some of the pesticides found by this study and in separate studies by the FDA are toxic to delicate organ systems, such as the nervous and endocrine system. Others are potent carcinogens that may initiate the process of tumor formation earlier in life than accounted for by the EPA when it sets limits for pesticides in food. While these residues do not pose a immediate health risk, they contribute to an overall exposure to pesticides that must be included in pesticides standard setting. Currently it is not.
Every respected, objective review of pesticide safety standards has concluded that infants and children need more protection, not less protection from pesticides in food and water (NRC 1993, WHO 1986, Guzelian, et al. 1992). While baby food appears to have lower levels of pesticides in it than fresh fruits and vegetables, it still contains residues of pesticides at levels that have not been shown to be safe for infants.
Rather than rolling back fundamental health standards for infants and children, Congress should:
- Phase out pesticides classified as probable human carcinogens as well as other highly hazardous pesticides that damage or otherwise interfere with the endocrine, reproductive, nervous or immune system.
- Enact tough standards to protect infants, young children and other vulnerable populations from the hazards of multiple pesticides in food, water, and the environment.
- Provide consumers with an unencumbered right to know which pesticides have been applied to the food they buy.
- Create real rewards for farmers and food companies for reducing the use of pesticides overall.