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Children's meal with pesticides

Pesticides are found not only in vegetables and fruits, but also in processed food, fish and the groundwater we all drink - but children are much more vulnerable to their effects, which include diseases, deformities and developmental impairment. So why isn't the state doing more to reduce exposure to these dangerous substances?

Pesticides are also found in processed food that we consume. Spraying against pests. Photo: Chafer Machinery / flickr.
Pesticides are also found in processed food that we consume. Spraying against pests. photograph: Chafer Machinery / flickr.

By Maya Falah, Angle - news agency for science and the environment

It is not new that the fruits and vegetables we eat come to us after being sprayed with various chemical substances. Pesticides have been used in agricultural crops since the beginning of the last century, and are part of what made the transition to large-scale industrialized agriculture possible. Certain substances that were previously used were discovered during the 20th century to have a harmful effect on humans and the environment; Some of them have been banned for use in growing food (such as DDT, for example, which was widely used in the XNUMXs, and it later became clear that it causes severe diseases and deformities) and others are under supervision and are allowed to be used in quantities that are defined as those that do not cause harm to humans.

Even regarding the substances that are allowed for use, there are still disputes: the European Union, for example, prohibits the use of the substance atrazine - a herbicide that has been found to disrupt the endocrine system in animals (after it was discovered that it is able Turn male frogs into females), which may harm male fertility, and is also toxic to the animals in the sea; But in Israel and the United States its use is still allowed. Many studies have also looked at the possible effects of pesticides on our hormonal systems, and found that some may cause diseases such as Parkinson's and cancer.

When we add tomato, cucumber and other vegetables to our salad, we usually assume that even though they have been sprayed with different substances, the use of these substances is done in a safe and controlled manner, which guarantees that they will not cause us any harm to our health. Therefore, we encourage our children to eat more fruits and vegetables - but do we know that the amount of pesticides used to grow them are indeed safe for the children and will not harm them?

what about the kids

"Children and babies are much more sensitive to pesticides than adults," explains Dr. Wendy Hager-Bernais from the School of Public Health at Boston University, who recently visited Israel as a guest of the Health and Environment Foundation. "Children are smaller physically, so naturally when an adult person who weighs about 80 kilos and a small child who weighs about 20 kilos eat the same apple that has the same concentration of pesticide, the health effect is different. In addition, in children, the systems and cells are still developing, and studies show that pesticides may damage the normal development of the cells. Therefore, children are also exposed to developmental damage - which does not happen with adults."

The problem does not end only with the salad we eat. Pesticides are also found in processed food that we consume. In addition, the pesticides that are sprayed in the field are absorbed into the soil and seep into the groundwater and thus reach our drinking water, and during rains and floods they also flow into the streams and into the sea where they are absorbed by the bodies of fish and various aquatic animals.

The exposure to the dangerous substances occurs not only through eating and drinking food products that contain them, but also through the respiratory system and by external contact - when we are in a sprayed environment. In this case too, the children, who are outside more, playing on the grass and in parks - are more exposed to danger. Thus, for example, babies crawling on sprayed surfaces may put objects in their mouths that have come into contact with pesticides. Therefore, babies tend to be exposed to the spray materials much more than adults.

The exposure to the dangerous substances occurs not only through eating and drinking food products that contain them, but also through the respiratory system and external contact. Photo:
The exposure to the dangerous substances occurs not only through eating and drinking food products that contain them, but also through the respiratory system and external contact. photograph:

In a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics and based on an analysis of 16 studies, it was discovered that children who are exposed to pesticides indoors are at a significantly increased risk Get cancer of the types leukemia and lymphoma. The researchers found that the risk of leukemia also exists with exposure to herbicides. Other studies have found a connection between the development of ADHD in children due to exposure to pesticides, as well as a certain impairment in their IQ: children in California whose levels of exposure to pesticides as fetuses were high, were have an average IQ seven points lower on average than others.

The Food Protection Law

"Children in Israel are entitled to the same protection as that which exists in other advanced countries in the world," says Dr. Ruth Estrin, director of the Foundation for Health and Environment. "The risk assessment of exposure to pesticide residues is based on body weight and the amount of consumption of various vegetables and fruits, therefore a risk assessment based on the weight of an adult does not protect children. We must act according to the most sensitive populations. The Israeli diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, reinforces this need even more."

Astrin points out that the data needed to determine the levels of pesticide residues that protect children in Israel do not currently exist. "There is still no organized data collection on the diet of children in Israel, which can be used for calculations of the recommended level of pesticides in children's food," she says. "And you have to remember that the diet of children is not always as varied as that of an adult, and that this has a considerable effect on the risk."

In this case, we can take an example from what is happening in the USA, where this year we marked 20 years of the Food Quality Protection Act - a law that regulates, among other things, the issue of pesticides and gives the authority on the matter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This law actually granted special protection to children against pesticides, by using data that examined the dietary habits of children and babies and taking this into account when determining the permissible dose of pesticides in the food products they consume.

As part of the American law, not only the amount and concentration of the pesticides allowed for use are regulated as is customary in Israel, but the presence of the substance in the plant itself is also checked - which of course affects the amount of the substance that passes to those who eat it. And just as important, in the US the restrictions established by law are adapted to the population with the highest threshold of sensitivity - that is, children and babies: the law allows by default the use of only 10 percent of the concentration of pesticides considered safe for adults. The idea is to assess the risks for the most sensitive population, and based on that determine the level of use for the entire population - this is to avoid risking harm to the sensitive population.

"The advantage for you in Israel is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel to implement such legislation," Hager-Bernais says. "There is regulated legislation in the field in both the European Union and the US - you can take the best from anywhere. The research methods for determining the safety of materials - such as, for example, testing whether a certain chemical affects the endocrine system - already exist and are ready to be put into use. Science is currently one step ahead of regulation, and there is no reason not to use the latest scientific knowledge in order to take care of the health of citizens and the environment. In addition, you are also a small enough country to systematically check what children eat, and accordingly understand their level of exposure and determine what the dangerous levels of pesticides are for them.'

And what is happening in Israel?

"Pesticides used in Israel for plant protection today require the approval of the Ministry of Agriculture," explains Sarit Caspi-Oron, head of water, chemicals and health at the organization Adam Teva and Din. "At the same time, the Plant Protection Services Administration bases the decision on whether to approve pesticides for use on the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee, which is made up of representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Economy and the consumer representative. This committee is supposed to decide if the pesticide poses a danger to humans or the environment."

"Badam Teva and Din have been working on this issue for several years," says Caspi-Oron. "The position of the organization is that the approach must be adopted in accordance with the American law, and we even tried to incorporate its principles during the revision of the food law last year. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health did not agree to these changes and claimed that it takes into account the entire population when performing a risk assessment. In practice, the Ministry of Health still does not have data on the diet of children in Israel, so the risk assessment they carry out does not refer to children at all - but to the average adult, based on marketing data of the raw produce in Israel.'

Adam Teva and Din drafted a bill that sought to regulate the use of pesticides and reduce the risks from their use, this, among other things, by establishing a protective distance between spraying in agriculture and the settlements in order to protect the health of the residents, reducing the use of pesticides within the cities (in parks and gardens), Establishment of a national action plan to reduce the use of pesticides, investment of resources in education, outreach and sustainable management of agricultural farms, establishment of a national database on the use of pesticides and more. They are also working to change the way in which pesticides are approved and standards are set for residues in food in order to have special consideration for sensitive populations - and especially children - when making decisions.

You should always wash the fruits and vegetables with water and a little soap before use, just in case. Photo: isidor emanuel
You should always wash the fruits and vegetables with water and a little soap before use, just in case. photograph: isidore emanuel.

What do you do at the supermarket?

"We all need to be more aware of the food we consume and especially of the pesticides that are in it," says Hager-Bernais. "There are those who claim that if we publish too much information about possible dangers in the food sector we will create panic in the public, but my experience has taught me that the more questions people ask, the more they know and make better decisions. The private choices of the public have a very important power over the actions of the government and the business entities in the food sector. Already today, large marketing chains pay more attention to the quality of the products they sell because they know that consumers care about it."

So what can the little citizen standing in front of the food shelves in the supermarket do? "I prefer to buy food that comes from places where I know there is proper supervision of agriculture," says Hager-Bernais. "In any case, I also trust the farmer or the producer and even the person who supervised it, you should always wash the fruits and vegetables with water and a little soap before use, just in case."

The Ministry of Health responded:

"The Ministry of Health acted as part of the inter-ministerial committee for the approval of pesticides in agriculture to eliminate the use of some of the pesticides from the group of organophosphorus that were found to endanger the health of the entire population and children in particular. Also, the use of the other materials from this group was reduced. In addition, a revision was made to substances from the triazine group (which may contaminate water sources). Several substances from this group were eliminated and the use of atrazine was reduced.

The Ministry of Health continues its activities, within the committee, to reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture.

The degree of potential exposure of children to pesticides from food is an integral part of the risk assessment carried out in determining the permitted residues of pesticides.

In addition, the Ministry of Health is involved in studies examining the degree of exposure of children to pesticides from food.

Regarding the statement that "there is no systematic collection of data on the diet of children in Israel, which can be used for calculations of the recommended level of pesticides in food for children", we would like to update that the collection of data on the diet of children as part of the National Health and Nutrition Surveys has recently ended and we are now At the stage of data processing".

The Ministry of Agriculture responded:

"Children's nutrition is one of the elements taken into account for the approval of preparations for agricultural use. The public health regulations (food, pesticide residues) shared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Health take into account the food basket, the Israeli diet, the consumption patterns of the general public, with an emphasis on weak and special groups of children, adults and more.

It does appear from studies in recent years that there is a need to put more weight on the children's diet in determining the standards for allowing pesticides. Therefore, the ministry is working to significantly improve standards in order to protect the children of Israel and improve their health.

Apart from the regulations of the two ministries, the determination of the residual level, which also includes a margin of safety that prevents any situation of risk, is in accordance with international practice, and based on the principle of risk assessment and statistical significance. These decisions are determined by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and according to the decline of the pesticides and the method of application."

2 תגובות

  1. The conclusion is to eat only organic produce!!!
    A little more expensive but it's worth the cost.
    As people consume more organic produce, more farmers will switch to organic farming, prices will drop and the use of pesticides will decrease.

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