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What are we eating with our food? Like it or not, every time you put food into your mouth, the chances are you are also putting undesirable chemicals in too. Below is listed food grown in New Zealand that has been shown in surveys to be highly contaminated with pesticide residues. If parents want to avoid the risk of pesticide poisoning in their children and lessen long term problems with their health, I would recommend avoiding or at least cutting down on these foods if they are not organic. This may make the difference between symptoms of ill health being displayed or not in your body.

1. Celery2. Wheat products
3. Tomatoes4. Kiwifruit
5. Apples6. Cucumber
7. Peaches8. Strawberries
9. Oranges10. Lettuce
11. Pears12. Potatoes

All of these foods have been shown to contain from one to nine carcinogens or substances that could cause cancer and from one to eight mutagens or pesticides that could cause genetic damage. All except potatoes have been shown to contain from one to five teratogens or pesticides that could cause birth defects, and from one to five immunotoxins or pesticides that could damage the immune system. Eight foods (celery, wheat products, tomatoes, kiwifruit, apples, cucumber, oranges and pears) have been shown to contain known neurotoxins or pesticides causing damage to the nervous system. Seven of these foods (wheat products, tomatoes, kiwifruit, apples, cucumber, oranges and pears) have been shown to contain pesticides which accumulate in the body.

Some known long term and chronic effects on mammals of pesticides found in the two worst contaminated foods are listed.

Celery: 97.7% of 60 celery samples had detectable pesticide residues, with 17 different pesticides being found. Celery has been shown to contain: 7 carcinogens, 2 suspect carcinogens, 3 mutagens, 5 suspect mutagens, 2 teratogens, 3 suspect teratogens, 3 foetotoxins, 1 delayed neurotoxin, 1 suspect neurotoxin, 5 immunotoxins; and the pesticides could cause hyperexcitability, skin, eye and kidney damage, allergic dermatitis, conjunctivitis, retinal & sciatic nerve damage, reduced protein synthesis in the foetus, blood damage, allergic reactions, behaviour effects, ulcers, gastrointestinal inflammation, damage to eyesight, abnormal brain waves.

Wheat products (including bread, pastry, luncheon sausage, pasta) 96.6% of 90 wheat product samples had detectable pesticide residues, with 10 different pesticides being found. Wheat products have been shown to contain: 3 pesticides known to accumulate in the body, 3 carcinogens, 2 mutagens, 4 suspect mutagens, 5 immunotoxins, 1 teratogen, 2 suspect teratogens, 3 neurotoxins, 1 suspect neurotoxin, 2 foetotoxins; and the pesticides could cause sterility and impotence in bulls, allergic dermatitis, conjunctivitis, sperm and other reproductive abnormalities, loss of human white blood cells, inhibition of steroid synthesis, bone marrow damage, aplastic anaemia, enhancement of viruses, behavioural deficits in newborn, implicated in Reye's syndrome, hormone and testicular damage, allergic reactions, ulcers, gastrointestinal inflammation, damage to eyesight, abnormal brain waves, can reduce the ability of the body to detoxify other toxins, kidney, liver and adrenal damage, anorexia.

This list does not include grapes because they have not been analysed for pesticide residues in New Zealand in spite of the fact that 33 pesticides are recommended for use on grapes in NZ and they have high residues overseas. New Zealand wine has been found to contain high residues of pesticides. There are other foods likely to contain high amounts of pesticide residues such as other types of stone and berryfruit, but again these have not been analysed.

These foods have been ranked according to the total number of pesticides found in each and the percentage of samples found to have pesticide residues. The surveys used for the ranking were the NZ Total Diet Survey 1990/91 and Pesticide Residues in NZ Food 1990-1991, where the largest sample was used if more than one sample of a particular food occurred.


Briggs, S:(1992) Basic Guide to Pesticides: their Characteristics and Hazards, Rachel Carson Council, Washington DC.

US EPA: (1995) Office of Pesticide Programs: List of Chemicals Evaluated for Carcinogenic Potential.

Alison White

August 2001

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