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Author Topic: Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?  (Read 5499 times)

Ashley Rose

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Ashley Rose  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hi, guys,

I've been hearing a lot about pesticides and health problems associated
with consuming fruits and vegetables that were treated with them.

I know that organic foods shouldn't have these chemicals, but they aren't available year-round, like most of the regular foods are.  My question is:

Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides, which would not
only reduce the harmful chemicals but would also reduce our vitamin / mineral intake, or, is it more important to get the nutrients that these foods provide regardless of chemical content?

Thanks, Ashley Rose,
Vancouver, Canada

What do you think?


 

Offline Bored chemist

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #1 on: 14/06/2009 14:13:32 »
Shocking as it may seem the manufacturers of pesticides go out of their way to make products that are toxic to pests rather than people.

Unless there are grave errors in the application of these products they simply don't constitute any real risk to people (with the possible exception of people who are alergic to the pesticides).
There haev been examples in thepast of products that were shown to be more toxic than would be thought acceptable today. DDT is, I guess the classic case of this. It may have something to do with the fact that it was first made back in 1874 when there just wasn't a lot of consumer protection legislation about.

On the other hand, not only are some of the most toxic chemicals known, made by fungi of the sort that atack crops, but the production of crops without the use of pesticides is more expensive. (anyone who buys organic food will have seen that).
So you will probaly do better by spending your money on other things rather than organic produce. Buy a variety of food and enjoy a balanced diet.
 

Offline Don_1

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #2 on: 15/06/2009 07:17:33 »
This question always brings to mind the report that apples from supermarket stock were tested and found to contain up to 4 parts per million of a pesticide which could increase the risk of cancer. The EU recommended maximum for this pesticide was 8 parts per million. However, even at this maximum level, to ingest sufficient pesticide to put you 'at risk', you would need to consume 50 apples per day, every day from birth to death.

Another point conveniently glossed over by the men in grey suits, was the fact that this pesticide occurs naturally in mushrooms to the tune of 800 parts per million.

As BC wrote, manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure the safety of pesticides and fungicides.
 

Offline Karsten

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #3 on: 15/06/2009 21:55:07 »
There is more to pesticide use than just how much of it you eat. It may make no difference whether you EAT plants treated with the correct(!) amount of pesticides or EAT organically grown vegetables and fruit. However the question was whether it is advisable to AVOID foods treated with pesticides. This, of course, could lead to asking if there are ANY foods that are not treated with pesticides. Even organic foods are treated with pesticides, just not those that do not occur naturally or are human inventions.

Shocking as it may seem the manufacturers of pesticides go out of their way to make products that are toxic to pests rather than people.

I wonder why the people who apply those pesticides wear special clothing and breathing apparatuses. Can't be healthy if you look at how they administer the stuff. Could this become an issue if materials that dangerous escape into the environment as a result of an accident? Is the manufacture of those materials benign or at times even deadly for people? (Bhopal disaster 1984, 10000 dead within 72 hours? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster)Are there not some incredibly scary warning labels on those pesticide containers? Special clothing has to be worn. It may have to be washed daily. It may be dangerous to enter your house with those clothes. The person doing the laundry has to be informed about what chemicals have been used. (http://www.pesticides.montana.edu/Reference/Laundering.htm)Kids have to be kept away from the pesticides depending on how toxic they are. Lethal doses are mentioned. Some seem to be as little as just a few drops. Is it advisable to avoid foods (and the methods to make them) that do not include taking such risks? I think so.

As BC wrote, manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure the safety of pesticides and fungicides.

It seems right now that food and the methods are declared safe until standards have to be updated due to scientific research or public pressure. Industrial agriculture is a huge business that also involves profits. The profits are in danger if certain methods or materials become questionable. If profit oriented company owners who are not always guided by science make decisions and pull strings they will try to dismiss or belittle information that decreases what they live for. The impact of those materials is not determined by science. There are people involved here and their character, education, and agenda influences how dangerous or harmless those materials turn out to be when in use.

(...) but the production of crops without the use of pesticides is more expensive. (anyone who buys organic food will have seen that).
So you will probaly do better by spending your money on other things rather than organic produce. Buy a variety of food and enjoy a balanced diet.
Another reason why organic food is more expensive is that people are willing to pay more for it. While it makes in my opinion little sense to fly in organic produce from farms thousands of miles away, it make a lot of sense to purchase organic foods from you local farmer. Not only do you get food that does not depend on fossil fuels for fertilizers and artificial pesticides or transport, you also support a small local farmer. If you are in the lucky position to afford it, you can purchase (and support) a life style rather than merely something to eat that currently cannot be considered dangerous to be eaten.

Watch the movie "Our Daily Bread" (Unser Taeglich Brot, http://www.ourdailybread.at/jart/projects/utb/website.jart?rel=en&content-id=1130864824949). It is a silent movie that shows some of what happens in industrial food production. Quite impressive. It results in us being able to feed millions but as a life style it sucks. It makes you wonder what came first: Lots of people looking for any kind of work and food or the methods that allowed this many people to grow up and look for food and work?
« Last Edit: 15/06/2009 22:04:27 by Karsten »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #4 on: 16/06/2009 20:03:18 »
That was going quite well untill you mentioned Bhopal. That's where you lost some credibility.

The stuff that escaped there 20 years ago (and which is still killing people (or at least contributing to their deaths) was methyl isocyanate.

That's not a pesticide, why even mention it?. It looks like a strawman to me.


"It seems right now that food and the methods are declared safe until standards have to be updated due to scientific research or public pressure. "
Not on my side of the Atlantic.
http://www.hse.gov.uk/reach/about.htm#nodata
(That's the UK govt's take on it, but the REACH regs are in force across the EU.
Incidentally, there's similar legislation across the pond.
This sort of stuff.
http://www.epa.gov/opppmsd1/PPISdata/

 

Offline Karsten

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #5 on: 17/06/2009 02:10:47 »
That was going quite well untill you mentioned Bhopal. That's where you lost some credibility.

The stuff that escaped there 20 years ago (and which is still killing people (or at least contributing to their deaths) was methyl isocyanate.

That's not a pesticide, why even mention it?. It looks like a strawman to me.

I am glad I only lost "some" credibility. Phew.

To get it back:

Yesterday when I wrote my post above, I googled the words "pesticide accident India". The first link that came up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster) was a Wikipedia entry about the accident in Bhopal. I had remembered the country but could not remember the city right. Anyhow, this is not a straw man if I read this quite long article right. Union Carbide is/was a pesticide plant. The material that killed all those thousands of people, methyl isocyanate, is/was used to produced the pesticide carbaryl (trademark Sevin). So, yes you are right, it was not a pesticide that killed all those people. It was used to MAKE A PESTICIDE. That is part of the problem and not a small one! Maybe the ingestion of the pesticides themselves is not as dangerous as often viewed, however you cannot just ignore the dangers of the methods and materials that are required to produce or use the pesticides.

OK, that accident was a relatively long time ago. I sure hope someone learned from this and either the pesticide is no longer manufactured or the methods have been changed. Fact is, the methods where dangerous and probably some people did not care as much as they should have. There are allegations it was sabotage. Poor maintenance played a role it seems. Exactly my point. People and their actions, not science, determine how dangerous a material is. As long as people use dangerous materials to create a product and the methods used CAN cause harm to humans, the product should probably not be considered harmless if viewed holistically. In my opinion there are good reasons to avoid pesticides unless their manufacture, application, ingestion, and disposal is harmless. To be considered truly harmless, you have to be harmless from cradle to grave.

BTW, according to the article Bayer manufactured carbaryl as well but without using methyl isocyanate. It was just more expensive this way. Lowering manufacturing costs was more important to Union Carbide than using less dangerous materials. I do not think that this mindset has changed significantly. And while there may be tough standards in Europe or the US, the standard other countries have may be less difficult to meet. As a result the companies manufacture (or let manufacture) there. Quite reasonable decision from an economic point of view that excludes long-term human or environmental costs.


"Incidentally, there's similar legislation across the pond.
This sort of stuff."

Depending on who is in power (politically speaking) the EPA is considered to have little bite here in the USA. Not even much of a bark.

The concept of using dangerous materials and methods is still in place today. Regulation exists to reduce the risk of accidents. Most people try hard to make sure the public is safe. And the regulations and technology are only as infallible as the people who control them.
« Last Edit: 17/06/2009 02:15:59 by Karsten »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
« Reply #6 on: 17/06/2009 06:56:18 »
It still looks like a strawman to me.
OK, MIC is used in making some pesticides and MIC is very toxic so pesticides are dangerous.
Chlorine (once used as a war gas) is used in making clean water so clean water is dangeous.

Poor plant design in India from an international company that should have known better is a scandal.
What does it have to do with avoiding pesticides?

Incdentally, you seem to not have noticed that Bayer is a company too. They did things the safe way round to make the same stuff.
Just becaue UC are immoral doesn't mean that you should avoid pesticides.
Also, since Bayer also use phosgene in making carbaryl you can hardly claim it's a "safe" process either way.
« Last Edit: 17/06/2009 07:08:44 by Bored chemist »
 

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Is it healthier to avoid foods treated with pesticides?
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