Pesticides in Baby Food
July 1, 1995

Pesticides in Baby Food: Pesticides in Baby Food


The Chemicals


Sixteen different pesticides were found in the eight baby food products tested (Table 2). More than half (53 percent) of all samples contained detectable levels of pesticides, 18 percent of samples had two or more pesticides in them, and one sample contained three different pesticides (Table 3).

Iprodione (Rovral), classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, was found more often than any other pesticide (eight detections), followed by thiabendazole with seven detections, botran with six, and permethrin with five.

Iprodione on plums and peaches were the highest levels of any pesticide found on any single crop at 46 and 29 ppb respectively. Thiabendazole in applesauce, dimethoate in pears, and permethrin in peaches rounded out the top five at 19, 18 and 16 ppb (Table 4).

Of the sixteen pesticides detected, three are probable human carcinogens, five are possible human carcinogens, eight are neurotoxins, five are endocrine disruptors, and five are categorized as oral toxicity 1 chemicals, the most toxic designation (Table 5).


The Crops


Peaches and pears had the highest percent of detections (78 percent) (Table 6). One third of peach samples had 2 pesticides on them, whereas twenty-two percent of pears contained two pesticides. Three different pesticides were detected on peaches, and five different pesticides were detected on pears.

Applesauce, plums, and sweet potatoes had the next highest rates, with two thirds testing positive for pesticides. One third of applesauce samples had 2 pesticides in them, 11 percent of plums had two, and no samples of sweet potatoes had two pesticides in them. In fact, all the sweet potatoes contained the same pesticide, botran, a post harvest sprout inhibitor that could easily be replaced with refrigeration. Four different pesticides were found in applesauce, and three were found on plums.

Forty-four percent of green bean samples were positive for pesticides, all with at least two different compounds detected. One green bean sample contained 3 different pesticides.

No directly applied pesticides were found in squash, although 22 percent of samples contained DDE (the breakdown product of DDT), or dieldrin, a potent, persistent, cancer-causing pesticide banned for 20 years but commonly absorbed by crops from polluted soil. Garden vegetables and the composite pea/carrot mixture substituted for them, contained no detectable pesticide residues.

Pears had the greatest variety of pesticides in them (five), followed by applesauce with four, and peaches, plums, and green beans with three. Plums had the highest total pesticide load at 53 ppb, followed by peaches at 46 ppb, and pears at 41 ppb (Table 6).


FDA Baby Food Testing


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests baby foods for pesticides as a part of its Total Diet Study (TDS). Under the TDS, FDA purchases 234 foods four times per year, each time from one geographic location, and tests them for pesticides and other contaminants.

A 1993 paper published in the Journal of AOAC International by FDA scientists, reported dozens of pesticides in baby food purchased in grocery stores and tested in the TDS during the years 1985 through 1991 (Yess et al. 1993). The results support the finding of our study.

The FDA found 22 pesticides over the seven year period in the eight fruits and vegetables analyzed in this report (Table 7). This is eight more pesticides than found in this study, probably due to the larger sample size and longer duration of time representated by the FDA data.

In the 27 samples tested during the seven year period that most closely match our sampled foods, the FDA found 12 pesticides in applesauce, seven in peaches, 11 in pears, and seven in green beans, peaches and plums/prunes . The pesticides found most often were phosalone (41 detections), dicloran (32) endosulfan (31), chlorpyriphos (29), and parathion (28). The pesticide found at the highest level was propargite, a probable human carcinogen, found at the highest levels of any pesticide in applesauce, peaches, and plums. Phosalone was found at the highest levels in pears.

In vegetables, the FDA results were even more similar to ours. Dicloran in sweet potatoes, and methamidophos and acephate in green beans dominated the residue profile, with dicloran in sweet potatoes the highest reported residues in the vegetables we tested. The FDA found 5 pesticides in mixed/garden vegetables, one pesticide in peas, and four pesticides in carrots. This is more pesticides than we found in similar foods -- we found no detectable residues in garden vegetables or a pea/carrot mix. But like our results, the agency found fewer pesticides in these foods than in other common fruit and vegetable baby foods products.

Notably, DDT was found by the FDA at least once in all the fruits and vegetable samples (except sweet potatoes). As expected, DDT detections were more prevalent and at higher levels in the meat dinners tested by FDA. For example, DDT was found in 26 out of 27 baby beef dinners, and 19 out of 27 chicken or turkey dinners and 16 out of 27 pork dinner samples over the seven year period.