In 2013, the Daily Mail published an article saying that “up to 98% of our fresh food carries pesticides”. Good to know. Not pretty sure the number is correct but what is sure is the fact that we can find pesticide in our food. Above the information, what does that means for human health? And what can we do?
Pesticides are “chemical or biological agents that are used to protect crops from insects, weeds and infections”. Most farmers in Europe and all around the world are using pesticides while growing food, “to control pets such as insects, rodents, weeds, bacteria, mold and fungus” . These pesticides projected straight to our food are legally framed and farmers do not have to go further than a certain level. But the question is always the same: how much is too much? How much is dangerous for our health? And for the environment? Pesticides are causing the decline of bees for example. Creations of the artist Louis Masai are underlining the consequences.
Pesticides have been linked to a lot of different health troubles from minor ones like headache to bigger ones as cancer, birth defect, attention disorder in kids… Some are also recognized as hormone disrupter. The correlation is even bigger in the farmer population as they are in direct contact everyday with pesticides. Even if pesticides stay below the safety level, some scientists warn about a cumulative “cocktail effect”. The most at risk with pesticides are foetuses, infants, growing children, pregnant and nursing mothers. Babies can get pesticides in their body from mother’s diet and breast milk.
But food is health, no? What can we do when this affirmation does not seem so true anymore? Some scientific foundations did researches on pesticide residues in our food : the Environmental Working Group in the USA  and in Europe you can find some material in the Pesticide Action Network Europe website (this info sheet for example).
The Environmental Working Group does every year a list of the most contaminated food and the less one; they call it the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen. It helps to know which food should better be bought organic to avoid pesticide residue and which food is okay in a non organic circuit. You can have a look at the lists above keeping in mind that it was done based on US food. It still seems as if food with thicker skin was less contaminated. You can still find the same kind of information related to Europe here: http://www.pan-europe.info/sites/pan-europe.info/files/public/resources/factsheets/pesticides-in-food.pdf.
Apart from trying to be informed, what else can we do?
– The first tip is always to buy organic, so you will have less chance to find pesticide residues in your food, and it will help farmers that do not use them.
– The second tip is to wash your food, even if this does not completely remove all the residues as some went through the skin for example with potatoes.
– The third tip is to peel your food when you can.
by Amelys Erard