Pesticide residues in food
Many foods can be contaminated with traces of pesticides used in agriculture. One of the main problems is the insufficient monitoring of the levels of these pollutants.
Studies by the European Union in 2006 showed traces in more than 46% of the analysed samples, of which most did not exceed the “legal” levels. However, there are still some scientific studies that have shown health effects from exposure to levels lower than is “legal”.
Another study by the Public Health Agency in Barcelona stated that, between 1998 and 2003, there were non-halogenated pesticides in more than 28% of the fruit analysed, in 20% of cereals and cereal products and in 7% of vegetables. There were also traces of halogenated pesticides in other products. However, for the purpose of this study, they were only looking for halogenated pesticides and organophosphorates even though, nowadays, there are others which are much more frequently used. Amongst the chemicals that were detected, there were some worrying examples: malathion, procymidone, dimetoato, fenitrothion, imazalil, fenvalerate, folpet etc.
Exposure to pesticides is linked to, in different situations (farmers, fumigators, people who live in fumigated areas, people who have pesticides in their bodies), an array of different health problems as shown in databases such as the US Collaborative on Health and Environment. These health problems include: arrhythmia, contact dermatitis, peripheral neuropathy, male infertility, adult leukaemia, aplastic anaemia, asthma, breast cancer, brain cancer in children, infant leukaemia, cognitive damage (learning difficulties, memory loss and attention deficiency), lack of coordination, fetotoxicity, genitourinary malformations in children and women, hormonal changes, weakened immune system, low birthweights, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, menstrual irregularity, multiple myeloma, pre-leukaemia, pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s, photosensitivity, toxic porphyria, prostate cancer, psychiatric issues, female infertility, kidney cancer, dizziness, skin cancer, testicular cancer, hepatitis, ADHD Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s hepatic angiosarcoma, autoimmunity, behavioural problems, bladder cancer, brain tumours, bronchitis, congenital cardiac defects, cervical cancer, chronic fatigue, cirrhosis, general congenital defects, colon cancer, altered vision, early menopause, throat cancer, Gulf War syndrome, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung cancer, melanoma, chemical sensitivity, MS, nasopharyngeal cancer, neural tube defects, cleft lip, ovarian cancer, pneumonia, retinoblastoma, rheumatoid arthritis, skeletal defects, soft tissue sarcoma, stomach cancer, thrombocytopenia, thyroid cancer, vasculitis and Wilms’ tumours.
One of the most worrying things about pesticide exposure is regarding infancy. Children accumulate more traces of pesticides in their body and are thus more susceptible to the effects. Various studies link exposure to pesticides such as organophosphates during pregnancy with mental health problems after birth.
Exposing children to pesticides has also been linked to issues concerning behaviour, motor skills, memory etc. in young infants.
A very interesting study published in the official magazine of the American Paediatrics Association linked the presence of low levels of organophosphate pesticide residues in children’s bodies with a significant increase of the risk of suffering from ADHD.
Additionally, some other studies have linked the presence of pesticide traces in our bodies to other diseases e.g. breast cancer. The University of Granada (Spain) published a report in the magazine Cancer Causes and Control which linked 16 pesticides found in breast tissue with an increased risk of developing a tumour.
One of the most common problems noted is that of hormonal disorders.
Many of the pesticides amongst the most used in the EU at the moment, and of which traces are frequently found in fruit and vegetables, can alter male hormones according to an investigation by the Centre of Toxicology at the University of London, which was supported by the European Commission. The study detailed some of the most used pesticides in Europe e.g. Fenithrotion, Dimethomorph, Fludioxonil, Fenhexamind, imazalil, Linuron, ortho-phenylphenol, Tebuconazole, pirimiphos-methyl etc.