Organic food reduces pesticide residues in children

A study of two to five-year olds in the US has found that consumption of organic food can have a significant effect on children’s pesticide exposure.

The study, by scientists at the University of Washington, investigated 43 children from the Seattle area who either ate mostly organic or mostly conventional fresh fruit and vegetables and fruit juices.

The children eating primarily organic diets had significantly lower organophosphorus pesticide metabolite concentrations that those eating conventional diets. One group of metabolites, the dimethyl metabolites, were found to be around six times higher in children eating conventional diets.

The scientists have drawn the conclusion that consumption of organic produce represents a relatively simple means for parents to reduce their children’s exposure to pesticides.

Children eat more food per body mass than adults, and their diets are often higher in rich in the sort of foods that are likely to contain higher levels of pesticide residues, such as juices, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, the researchers explained.

“Organic foods have been growing in popularity over the last several years,” said Dr Jim Burhart, Science Editor for EHP. “These scientists studied one potential area of difference from the use of organic foods, and the findings are compelling.”

Other possible sources of pesticides were investigated, such as from drinking water or home use of pesticides. However, these were found not to have an impact on the study’s results.

The researchers admit that there were some limitations to their study, including concern that the children were not necessarily representative of children in the area as a whole. A second problem is that 100% of a dose of pesticides is not excreted in urine, so that it is likely that doses are underestimated.

There have been other studies that back up the researchers’ claims. A study published in 2001 found that of 110 urban and suburban children, all but one of the children had measurable levels of organophosphorus pesticide metabolites in their urine. The one exception was a child whose parents reported buying exclusively organic produce.

A similar study, published on 26 February in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has revealed that organically grown foods are higher in cancer-fighting chemicals that conventionally grown foods. The research suggests that pesticides actually thwart the production of phenolics, a type of antioxidant, which plants produce to protect themselves against pests.

The researchers studied a type of blackberry, and found that those grown organically had around 50% more antioxidants than those grown conventionally.

“I found that the higher level of antioxidants is enough to have a significant impact on health and nutrition, and it’s definitely changed that way I think about my food,” said Alyson Mitchell of the University of California, and lead author of the paper.


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