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Children are at risk from pesticide residues in our food. This finding was reported in a 1993 National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the US Congress. This conclusion confirmed other reports on the same topic by the Environmental Working Group (1993) and the Natural Resources Defence Council (1989). There are numerous flaws in pesticide policy that increase that risk.

Children could suffer from acute organophosphate poisoning from eating food with organophosphate residues. The danger also extends to adults whose diets consist mostly of fruit and vegetables. An Israeli doctor found some adults who were suffering from acute organophosphate poisoning had their symptoms relieved when they stopped eating fruit and vegetables. In one case the person began eating only organic produce and got better.

Younger children especially are at risk from pesticide exposure because pesticides could cause irreversible and permanent damage to their central nervous system as well as cancer and disruption to the immune and hormonal systems. These damaging effects can occur at exposure levels considered safe for adults. The Environmental Working Group estimated in their report that millions of children in the US receive up to 35% of their entire lifetime dose of some carcinogenic pesticides by age 5.

Children are exposed to the highest levels of pesticides in food because they eat proportionally more food than adults, and therefore, relatively more toxins with their fruit and vegetables. Also, food such as fruit that children eat more of, tends to be sprayed more. Data from New Zealand's latest published Total Diet Survey ('90/'91) show that young children get twice as much pesticides in their food compared to adult men. When setting acceptable pesticide levels, adult toxicity data and adult food consumption patterns are used to reach conclusions about what is acceptable for children. It is also not considered that pesticide residues may occur on more than one food in a child's diet, or that more than one pesticide may be present on a given food, or that children are exposed to pesticides from numerous non-dietary sources. The "Pesticide Residues in NZ Food 1990-91" found 39 pesticides in just 16 fruits and vegetables.

The Safe Food Campaign urges the Government to adopt a targeted pesticide risk reduction strategy that will gradually but completely phase out pesticides that present the greatest hazards to children. Much lower Maximum Residue Limits (MLR) should be set for pesticides in foods (the NAS study recommends a 10 fold reduction), to take account of children's greater susceptibility and the total amount of pesticides children are likely to be exposed to from other sources. The Government should promote a sustainable agriculture, which uses no pesticides.

Alison White

January 2000

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