New Internationalist

Aa Is For Apple, Pp Is For Pesticide

Issue 323

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Aa is for apple, Pp is for pesticide
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIC JONES

Much of the food we eat contains pesticide residues. Although many of these do not exceed allowed levels for adult consumption, no-one knows what the build-up of poison over time does to our bodies. Nor has the effect on babies and children been calculated. What we do know is that many of these pesticides can cause cancer or have other adverse effects on animals, humans and the environment. Some are banned in the West but find their way into the food we import. Others are still in the soil, water and air years after they are no longer being used.

The numbers in each box refer to the pesticides key at the foot of the page.

[image, unknown]
A is for Apple

The average Westerner consumes over 11 kgs of apples a year. Apples are exported from at least 40 different countries. They are among the most contaminated fruits - 98 per cent of all apples [image, unknown] have pesticides on them - four per apple on average.
2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 18, 21

[image, unknown]
B is for Bananas
Most bananas are treated with chemicals when they're grown, harvested and shipped. Plantations in Central America have the heaviest usage - 30 kgs per hectare per year (see The Big Banana Split, NI 317). 1,3,4,6,8,15,19,20

[image, unknown] C is for Chocolate
Nine out of ten people in the West buy chocolate regularly. At least 30 pesticides are used in growing cocoa. In 1994 75 per cent of 72 samples of European chocolate tested contained low levels of lindane (or gamma-HCH), a pesticide which is banned[image, unknown] in six countries and severely restricted in 18. (see The Cocoa Chain, NI 304).
1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15 16, 18, 19, 20

[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] D is for Dates
In Egypt intensive fruit and vegetable production has meant large pesticide inputs. More than 75% of pesticides are applied by aerial spraying, exposing 1.26 million workers to potential poisons.
9, 10, 14, 18

[image, unknown]

E is for Eggs
In the US, eggs, fish, meat and poultry are second only to dairy products in their contribution to the total adult intake of organochlorine pesticides.[image, unknown] Chickens eat pesticides in their food which then contaminates their eggs.

F is for Fish
Pesticides are not often used directly on fish, but fish readily absorb pesticides from fresh or salt water. Studies in the Great Lakes region in the North America showed that eating contaminated fish can affect foetuses in the womb (see Crossed bills and broken eggs).
7, 10, 18, 19

[image, unknown] G is for Grapes
Pesticide residues in grapes are also found in wine. But grape pests can be controlled by techniques which do not need pesticides. For [image, unknown] instance, the grape leafhopper in California has been controlled by leafhopper egg parasites.
5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 14, 16, 18, 20

[image, unknown]
H is for Honey

Bees are severely affected by extensive pesticide use. Pyrethroids and organophosphates are toxic to bees, attacking their nervous system. French beekeepers believe that the insectide imidacloprid may explain the drastic decline of the French bee population since 1993. In some areas honey production has fallen by 60 per cent.
9,10,11,14,18,17

I is for Ice-cream
Dairy products are the main dietary source of organochlorine residues. In 1988 in the UK organochlorine residues were found in 44 per cent of 120 samples of milk. Cattle may be exposed to pesticides in grass and other fodder crops treated deliberately with herbicides or through the chemicals drifting in the air. In June 1999 Korea rejected Australian[image, unknown] beef on the grounds that it was contaminated with endosulfan which is widely sprayed on cotton (see Cotton tales). A seven-year study of pesticides in Indian milk found a high proportion with residues above safe levels.
8, 10, 14, 15, 16

[image, unknown] J is for Juice The US Department of Agriculture found pesticides in over 70 per cent of juice samples they analyzed in 1996, including 98 per cent of apple juice and 96 per cent of peach juice. Pesticide residues are reduced in the processing of juice although some juice may also contain pesticides which are left on peel.
2, 4, 7, 8, 12, 15, 16, 19, 20

K is for Kale
In a 1988 sample of 41 kale plants imported into the US, 85 per cent contained pesticide residues.
[image, unknown] 1, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 21

[image, unknown]
L is for Lettuce

If outer leaves are discarded this may reduce the presence of some pesticides.
5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 18, 19, 21

[image, unknown] M is for Maize
129 million hectares of maize (corn)
are grown
[image, unknown] worldwide. The US produces 42 per cent of the total and corn constitutes 53 per cent of total US herbicide use. In tests on oat, wheat and maize 97 per cent contained at least one residue and 62 per cent contained multiple residues.
1,6,8,12,19

[image, unknown]
N is for Nuts

In Kenya since the 1970s farmers have routinely applied paraquat to groundnuts. Nut pests can be controlled by non-chemical means.
[image, unknown] 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 16, 17, 18, 20

O is for Organic
Eating organic food is probably the only way to make sure that you are not eating pesticide residues. The trade in organic food at the moment is small but demand is rising rapidly. It is growing fastest in Europe where the area given over to organic cultivation quadrupled between 1987 and 1993. The current world market for organic food is $11 billion and it may reach [image, unknown] $100 billion within a decade.

[image, unknown] P is for Potato
British people eat between 40 and 55 kgs of potatoes per person per year. Potatoes in the US still reveal residues of DDT, dieldrin and chlordane despite the fact that these [image, unknown] were banned in 1978.
1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12

[image, unknown] Q is for Quince
As quinces are not a major crop they tend not to be sprayed with pesticides. However, asulum and amitrole have been found in quince fruits, most likely spread from adjacent farm land. [image, unknown] Amitrole has now been banned in many countries.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown]

R is for Rice
In the major rice-producing countries rice commonly accounts for 25 to 50 per cent of pesticide use. Asian rice-producers consume 13 per cent of global pesticides. Many of the pesticides used on rice are extremely or highly hazardous. And only a small proportion of those who spray the chemicals wear protective clothing. A recent survey in the Philippines indicated a high frequency of eye, skin and respiratory disorders among rice farmers.
4,5,6,8,15,16

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S is for Soyabean

75 per cent of all herbicides used in the US are sprayed on corn and soyabeans. The soyabean has been at the centre of the debate on genetically modified (GM) food. Soyabeans are found in 60 per cent[image, unknown] of our processed food from margarine to tofu.
1, 6, 7, 9, 11, 15, 16, 19, 20

[image, unknown]
T is for Tomato

Fifty-three countries export tomatoes. In 1993, 10,223 cases of serious pesticide poisoning were registered in Brazil's Northeast where tomatoes are one of the main crops. Tomatoes were one of the first vegetables to be genetically modified.
1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 16, 18, 21

[image, unknown] U is for Under-standing
As with GM food, information and labelling is important to help consumers choose what they want. Washing, scrubbing and peeling food can also help reduce some pesticide residues.

V is for Vegetables
Pesticides are used at many stages in the life of a fruit or vegetable. Some are used on seeds, others to kill pests while the vegetable is growing and different ones again post-harvest. Some pesticides are used simply to ensure that a vegetable looks good for the supermarket shelf. And because we want to eat food out of season, pesticides are used in the transport and preservation of vegetables to avoid insect or fungus attack.

[image, unknown]
W is for Water
Pesticides inevitably leach into the environment and can poison rivers, streams and even groundwater. The tap water of more than a million Californians, mostly in the Central Valley, is contaminated with a banned pesticide that is also a potent carcinogen. The contamination is 300 times the 'safe' dose for infants and children. 3, plus carbofuran, 2-4D, 1,2,DCP, diquat, glyphosate, pentachlorophenol, terbuthylazine

x (GM food)
Genetically modified (GM) food is promoted as a way to decrease pesticide use. Many GM crops have been genetically modified to resist pests - so when an insect takes a bite of a leaf or flower it also gets a bite of poison from the plant itself. Unfortunately this applies to anything that samples the plant. Some insects develop resistance, becoming 'superbugs'[image, unknown] which have to be destroyed by new and stronger pesticides. (See Gene dream, NI 293.)

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Y is for Yam

Yams come mainly from countries with few controls over pesticide use.
4,5,6,7,15

[image, unknown]
[image, unknown] Z is for Zucchini

(courgettes) See box on vegetables.
9,12,21

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ERIC JONES

List of footnoted pesticides: 1 aldicarb, 2 azinphos methyl, 3 atrazine, 4 benomyl, 5 captan, 6 carbaryl, 7 carbendazim, 8 chloropyrifos, 9 cypermethrin, 10 DDT, 11 deltametrin, 12 dimethoate, 13 dinocap, 14 the 'drins' (aldrin, dieldrin and endrin), 15 diazinon, 16 endosulfan, 17 heptachlor, 18 gamma-HCH, 19 methyl parathion, 20 paraquat, 21 zineb.

Sources: Pesticides and your food Andrew Watterson (Green Print), Pesticides News (Pesticides Action Network UK).

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