Francine Stephens and Betsy Lydon -- Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet
Even if you're not obsessed with healthy eating, it makes sense to avoid foods treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The National Academy of Sciences reported in 1993 that federal pesticide standards provide too little health protection for children and infants. Citing this report, the EPA's 1997 agenda sought to establish new child-specific standards. "Certified Organic" already applies the strictest standards, producing food without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. There is also "Integrated Pest Management (IPM)," which restricts pesticide use, and local, in-season food, which is less likely to have been treated with post-harvest pesticides. So, where to start? Here are the 10 most important foods to start buying organic:
1. BABY FOOD In 1995, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested eight baby foods made by industry leaders Gerber, Heinz and Beech-Nut. Some 16 pesticides were found in more than half of the samples. Organic baby foods include Earth's Best, Well-Fed Baby, and Gerber's Tender Harvest, and you can make your own by cooking and pureeing organic food.
2. RICE Because rice allergies are practically nonexistent, this cereal grass is a primary ingredient in baby foods. But pesticide use on rice fields in California's Sacramento River Valley, one major growing region, has been so heavy that it has contaminated groundwater.
3. STRAWBERRIES Strawberries are the single most pesticide-contaminated fruit or vegetable in the U.S., according to a 1995 EWG study. No surprise, in a crop that receives a dose up to 500 pounds of pesticides per acre. Strawberries and other produce bought out-of-season are the most likely to have been imported, possibly from a country with less-stringent pesticide regulations.
4. CEREAL The USDA recommends six to 11 servings of grains a day. But, in 1994, the FDA found illegal pesticide residues in a year's worth of General Mills' Cheerios oat-based cereal. And in 1996, the FDA found residues from at least one pesticide in 91% of wheat samples tested. Try a healthy variety of organic offerings: oats, wheat, millet, quinoa, barley, couscous, amaranth and spelt.
5. MILK Milk comprises nearly a quarter of the non-nursing infant's diet, but many dairies inject their cows with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a genetically engineered hormone used to boost milk production. Organic milk dairies don't use hormones or antibiotics.
6. CORN Processed foods made with corn -- cornbread, chips and popcorn -- were among the top 15 foods likely to expose children to an unsafe dose of organophosphate (OP) pesticide residues, according to a 1998 report of EWG. Organic versions can readily be found.
7. BANANAS Often the first fruit offered to babies, bananas are produced using benomyl (linked to birth defects) and chlorpyrifos (a neurotoxin). In Costa Rica, a major exporter, only 5 percent of farmland grows bananas, but they account for 35% of the country's pesticide consumption.
8. GREEN BEANS In 1992-93, contamination with pesticides illegal in the U.S. was found in 7.4% of green beans imported from Mexico. EWG's tests found three pesticides in conventional green bean baby food samples.
9. PEACHES A recent Food & Drug Administration study found that 5% of the peach crop was contaminated. Peaches lead the EWG's list of foods likely to contain unsafe OP exposures.
10. APPLES Apples rank second on the EWG list for OP residues, and baby food apple juice also made the top 15. Organic and IPM alternatives can be found in some supermarkets. Mothers & Others introduced its "CORE Values Northeast" label in 1996, identifying apples grown regionally by growers practicing biointensive IPM. "CORE Values" was recognized by the USDA SARE Program as an "innovative, interesting and impactful" sustainable agriculture project.
You may also want to seek out organic nectarines, grapes and raisins, and kiwi fruit, all of which made EWG's "least wanted" list. Contact EWG at 202-667-6982, or www.ewg.org.
Contact: Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet, 40 West 20th St., New York, NY 10011; 1-888-ECO-INFO; or www.mothers.org.