In a new round of testing, the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Working Group found the weedkiller glyphosate in all 21 cereal and snack products it sampled.
“All but four contained levels higher than what EWG considers protective for children’s health,” says Alexis Temkin, PhD, an EWG toxicologist and co-author of the new report, issued Wednesday.
Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup.
Monsanto took exception to the report and said its products contain safe levels of chemicals, well below federal limits. The FDA says its standard safe level of glyphosate ranges from 0.1 parts per million to 310 ppm.
The products meet the regulatory standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Temkin says, but the EWG believes that the feds’ “tolerance limits are too high to adequately protect children’s health.”
The EWG first tested oat-based products in August 2018 and then again in October. It did the latest round to see if there has been any shift in the market or if oat-based foods still contain levels that were present before.
In general, the watchdog group found no differences.
In a statement, General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas says: “General Mills’ top priority is food safety and has been for over 150 years. Most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat.”
What the New Tests Found
In the previous testing, including 94 samples of oat-based foods, glyphosate was detected in all but two samples, with 74 samples at levels above the EWG’s benchmark of 160 parts per billion (ppb). In the latest testing, ”we did 21 samples; four we had previously tested and 17 were new,” Temkin says.
Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, made by General Mills, had the highest levels, with 833 ppb, and regular Cheerios had 729 ppb.
Temkin says the EWG benchmark for children’s health of 160 ppb is calculated on how much of a substance would result in one additional case of cancer in every million people over a lifetime.
Nature Valley Fruit & Nut Chewy Trail Mix Granola Bar, Dark Chocolate & Nut, had the lowest results, with 76 ppb. Among other products sampled, Nature Valley Maple Brown Sugar granola bars had 566 ppb, Nature Valley Almond Butter Granola Cups had 529, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios had 400 ppb.
The EWG bought the products via online retail sites, shipping about 300 grams of each to an independent lab to analyze glyphosate levels.
Cancer-Causing or Not?
Are the levels worrisome or not? Experts disagree. The International Agency for Research on Cancer said in 2015 that glyphosate is ”probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The EPA says the chemical is not likely to cause cancer in people. In April, the EPA, while reviewing glyphosate, said it ”continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.”
Most crops grown in fields use some form of pesticides and trace amounts are found in the majority of food we all eat.
~ General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas
Glyphosate is a weedkiller and also helps ready crops for harvest. It promotes even drying so more of the crops can be harvested at the same time.
In recent years, some communities have banned the use of glyphosate. To date, three juries have awarded damages in cases involving the weedkiller and cancer. In May, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay a couple more than $2 billion in damages.
Parents who are concerned can turn to organic products, Temkin says. “We do know that organic oats are going to have much lower levels, because the use of glyphosate is prohibited,” she says. Still, it’s no guarantee, since organic oats might be grown near fields where the weedkiller is used.
In a statement, Monsanto says: “The glyphosate levels in this report are far below the strict limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health. Even at the highest level reported by the EWG (833 ppb), an adult would have to eat 158 pounds of the oat-based food every day for the rest of their life to reach the strict limits set by the EPA.”
General Mills’ Siemienas agrees.
“Experts at the FDA and EPA determine the safe levels for food products,” he says. “These are very strict rules that we follow as do farmers who grow crops. We continue to work closely with farmers, our suppliers and conservation organizations to minimize the use of pesticides on the ingredients we use in our foods.”
The allegations, he says, are the same as those made in previous EWG reports.
Article: Weedkillers in Cereals: What to Know
Environmental Working Group: “In New Round of Tests, Monsanto’s Weedkiller Still Contaminates Foods Marketed to Children,” June 12, 2019.
News release, EPA: “EPA Takes Next Step in Review Process for Herbicide Glyphosate, Reaffirms No Risk to Public Health,” April 30, 2019.
Alexis Temkin, PhD, toxicologist, Environmental Working Group.
The New York Times: “$2 Billion Verdict Against Monsanto Is Third to Find Roundup Caused Cancer.”
Statement, Monsanto, June 13, 2019.
Mike Siemienas, spokesperson, General Mills.
FDA.gov: “Questions and Answers on Glyphosate.”
Libby Mills, RDN, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Carl Winter, PhD, extension food toxicologist; vice chair, food science and technology, University of California, Davis.
United States Department of Agriculture: “Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010.”
United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Production and Handling Standards.”
Trewavas, A. Crop Protection, September 2004.
Environmental Protection Agency: “Pesticides and Food.”
United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Labeling Standards,” “Organic Agriculture,” “Organic Market Overview,” “Labeling Organic Product.”
Environmental Working Group: “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” “FDA Bans Three Toxic Chemicals.”
Winter, C. Journal of Toxicology, May 2011.
North Carolina State University: “Strawberry Disease and Their Control.”
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: “Removal of Trace Residues from Produce.”
Krol, W. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, October 2000.
National Potato Commission: “US Per Capita Utilization of Potatoes.”
Srednicka-Tober, D. British Journal of Nutrition, March 2016.
American Cancer Society: “Teflon and PFOA.”
Crop Protection: “A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and the potential benefits of no-till agriculture.”
Journal of Agromedicine: “Pesticide/Environmental Exposures and Parkinson’s Disease in East Texas.”
PLOS: “Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans”
Colorado State University: “Pesticides: Natural Isn’t Always Best.”
British Journal of Nutrition: “Composition differences between organic and conventional meet; A systematic literature review and meta-analysis.”
PBS: “USA to propose standard for organic seafood raised in U.S.”
Food Standards Agency: “Pesticides.”
Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 14, 2019
While it may still be considered a super food, kale took third place on this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. Once again, strawberries and spinach took first and second, as they did on last year’s list.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization focused on human health and the environment, has produced the report annually since 2004.
This year, more than 92% of kale samples tested had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could have up to 18 different residues, EWG found. The most frequently detected pesticide, found on about 60% of the kale samples, was Dacthal, also called DCPA. It has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a possible human carcinogen, based on animal studies.
The EWG researchers analyzed test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the report, and kale had not been tested in more than 10 years, says Nneka Leiba, MPH, director of healthy living science at EWG and a co-author of the report. “The percent of [kale] samples with residue increased from 76% to 98%,” she says, citing the difference between the testing in 2007 and in 2017, the data used for this year’s report. “The average number of residues on a single sample increased from two to more than five.”
Leiba stresses that the report should not discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables, although she does suggest people choose organic produce when possible as even washing produce does not remove all pesticides.
Other experts who viewed the report say the amount of pesticides found is not high enough to be a health hazard.
2019’s Dirty Dozen
After adding kale, this year’s list repeats all the entries on last year’s list except for sweet bell peppers, in 12th place last year. This year’s Dirty Dozen:
Dirty Dozen Plus
Clean 15 List for 2019
- Avocados (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels of pesticides)
- Sweet corn (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels)
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melons
Study Methods, Health Concerns
“As a registered dietitian, the concept of ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ foods is concerning, unless food is truly dirty,” says Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
“If you are more comfortable and can afford to, buy organic, but know it can have organic pesticide residue,” Diekman says.
While the levels on individual produce may seem low, ”the overall burden is high,” Leiba says, adding that people are also eating other foods with chemicals and pesticides. “We are talking about a synergistic effect.”
WebMD Article Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD
March 20, 2019
We’re Already Seeing The Health Effects Of Pesticides – Just Not Where You’d Expect
“Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables free of pesticides benefits health, and this is especially important for pregnant women and children,” said Carla Burns, of the EWG.
“It’s not healthy for people to be scared of their food,” said Asa Bradman, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “There are a few articles that hint at the benefits of organic versus conventional, but at this point, the information is only limited and the benefits of eating a healthy diet and a good selection of fruit and vegetables means I would not want to discourage consumption of those foods by people.”
“My personal view is that the risk to consumers is low compared to the potential risk to agricultural workers,” said Bradman.
Alex Chensheng, a professor of environmental exposure at Harvard, blames a strong farming lobby for blocking reform. It is very tough to make any significant policy progress on pesticides, he said, “If we can’t eliminate the conflict of interest, no true progress will be made.”
“We have nominal programs to support farmers converting to organic and that should be expanded, and we should be prioritizing research on organic farming,” said Kendra Klein, a scientific advisor for environmental organization Friends of the Earth. She doesn’t suggest all farmers need to convert to organic, but rather that the U.S. should look to move away from a pesticide-intensive system. ″We need to change the system so none of us is exposed,” she said.
In a study, those who ate more organic produce, dairy, meat and other products had 25 percent fewer cancer diagnoses over all, especially lymphoma and breast cancer.
People who buy organic food are usually convinced it’s better for their health, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it. But until now, evidence of the benefits of eating organic has been lacking.
Now a new French study that followed 70,000 adults, most of them women, for five years has reported that the most frequent consumers of organic food had 25 percent fewer cancers over all than those who never ate organic. Those who ate the most organic fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other foods had a particularly steep drop in the incidence of lymphomas, and a significant reduction in postmenopausal breast cancers.
The magnitude of protection surprised the study authors. “We did expect to find a reduction, but the extent of the reduction is quite important,” said Julia Baudry, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Center of Research in Epidemiology and Statistics Sorbonne Paris Cité of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. She noted the study does not prove an organic diet causes a reduction in cancers, but strongly suggests “that an organic-based diet could contribute to reducing cancer risk.”
The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, was paid for entirely by public and government funds.
Nutrition experts from Harvard who wrote a commentary accompanying the study expressed caution, however, criticizing the researchers’ failure to test pesticide residue levels in participants in order to validate exposure levels. They called for more long-term government-funded studies to confirm the results.
“From a practical point of view, the results are still preliminary, and not sufficient to change dietary recommendations about cancer prevention,” said Dr. Frank B. Hu, one of the authors of the commentary and the chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He said it was more important for Americans to simply eat more fruits and vegetables, whether the produce is organic or not, if they want to prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends consuming a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains instead of refined grains and limited amounts of red meat, processed meat and added sugars.
Dr. Hu called for government bodies like the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture to fund research to evaluate the effects of an organic diet, saying there is “strong enough scientific rationale, and a high need from the public health point of view.”
The only other large study that has asked participants about organic food consumption with reference to cancer was a large British study from 2014. While it found a significantly lower risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among women who said they usually or always ate organic food, it also found a higher rate of breast cancers in the organic consumers — and no overall reduction in cancer risk.
The authors of that study, known as the Million Women study, said at the time that wealthier, more educated women in the study, who were more likely to purchase organic food, also had risk factors that increase the likelihood of having breast cancer, such as having fewer children and higher alcohol consumption.
The organic food market has been growing in recent years, both in Europe and the United States. Sales of organic food increased to $45.2 billion last year in the United States, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 survey.
For food to be certified organic by the Department of Agriculture, produce must be grown without the use of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and may not contain genetically modified organisms. Meat must be produced by raising animals fed organic food without the use of hormones or antibiotics. Such items now represent 5.5 percent of all food sold in retail outlets, according to the organic trade group.
A representative of the Alliance for Food and Farming, a group that seeks to address public concerns about pesticides, said consumers should not worry about cancer risks from consuming conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables. “Decades of peer-reviewed nutritional studies largely conducted using conventionally grown produce have shown that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevents diseases, like cancer, and leads to a longer life,” executive director Teresa Thorne said in an emailed statement.
For the study, researchers recruited 68,946 volunteers who were 44, on average, when the study began. The vast majority, 78 percent, were women.
Participants provided detailed information about how frequently they consumed 16 different types of organic foods. The researchers asked about a wide range of foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy and soy products, meat, fish and eggs, as well as grains and legumes, bread and cereals, flour, oils and condiments, wine, coffee and teas, biscuits and chocolate and sugar, and even dietary supplements. Study volunteers provided three 24-hour records of their intake, including portion sizes, over a two-week period.
The information was far more detailed than that provided by participants in the British Million Women study, who responded to only a single question about how often they ate organic.
Participants in the French study also provided information about their general health status, their occupation, education, income and other details, like whether they smoked. Since people who eat organic food tend to be health-conscious and may benefit from other healthful behaviors, and also tend to have higher incomes and more years of education than those who don’t eat organic, the researchers made adjustments to account for differences in these characteristics, as well as such factors as physical activity, smoking, use of alcohol, a family history of cancer and weight.
Even after these adjustments, the most frequent consumers of organic food had 76 percent fewer lymphomas, with 86 percent fewer non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, and a 34 percent reduction in breast cancers that develop after menopause.
The reductions in lymphomas may not be all that surprising. Epidemiological studies have consistently found a higher incidence of some lymphomas among people like farmers and farm workers who are exposed to certain pesticides through their work.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified three pesticides commonly used in farming — glyphosate, malathion and diazinon — as probable human carcinogens, and linked all three to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
One reason an organic diet may reduce breast cancer risk is because many pesticides are endocrine disruptors that mimic estrogen function, and hormones play a causal role in breast cancer.
The organic food industry is a booming business, and with the recent sale of natural-foods giant Whole Foods to Amazon, it’s expected to grow even larger in the near future. While some consumers buy organic because they believe it’s better for the environment, even more do so for health-related reasons, according to one 2016 survey.
What, exactly, are the health benefits of going organic? That depends on who you ask and which studies you consult. But if you do choose to buy organic foods, here are some science-backed bonuses you’re likely to get in return.
Fewer pesticides and heavy metals
Fruits, vegetables and grains labeled organic are grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides or artificial fertilizers. (The National Organic Standard Board does allow some synthetic substances to be used.) While such chemicals have been deemed safe in the quantities used for conventional farming, health experts still warn about the potential harms of repeated exposure.
For example, the commonly used herbicide Roundup has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen,” and the insecticide chlorpyrifos has been associated with developmental delays in infants. Studies have also suggested that pesticide residues—at levels commonly found in the urine of kids in the U.S.—may contribute to ADHD prevalence; they’ve also been linked to reduced sperm quality in men.
A 2014 meta-analysis in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organically grown crops were not only less likely to contain detectable levels of pesticides, but because of differences in fertilization techniques, they were also 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the liver and kidneys.
More healthy fats
When it comes to meat and milk, organic products can have about 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, a type of unsaturated healthy fat, than conventionally produced products, according to a 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Organic milk tested in the study also had less saturated fat than non-organic.
These differences may come from the way organic livestock is raised, with a grass-fed diet and more time spent outdoors, say the study’s authors. They believe that switching from conventional to organic products would raise consumers’ omega-3 intake without increasing overall calories or saturated fat.
No antibiotics or synthetic hormones
Conventional livestock can be fed antibiotics to protect against illness, making it easier for farmers to raise animals in crowded or unsanitary conditions. The FDA limited the use of certain antibiotics for livestock earlier this year, but loopholes in the legislation still exist. And with the exception of poultry, conventionally raised animals can also be injected with synthetic growth hormones, so they’ll gain weight faster or produce more milk.
But traces of these substances can make their way to consumers, says Rolf Halden, professor and director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Security at Arizona State University. Drug residue is believed to contribute to widespread antibiotic resistance, he says, and organic foods—which are produced without antibiotics—“are intrinsically safer in this respect.” Organic meat and dairy also cannot contain synthetic hormones, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
More antioxidants, in some cases
In a recent six-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found that organic onions had about a 20% higher antioxidant content than conventionally grown onions. They also theorized that previous analyses—several of which have found no difference in conventional versus organic antioxidant levels—may have been thwarted by too-short study periods and confounding variables like weather.
The research was “very well done,” says Guy Crosby, adjunct associate professor of Nutrition at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. But he points out that this specific study “takes just one aspect of phytochemicals and shows they can be improved under organic conditions.” The question of whether organic foods are truly more nutritious is still debatable, he adds. “Had the researchers chosen to measure a different vitamin or mineral, they may have found a different result.”
The bottom line
Organic products are more expensive than conventional ones, and whether they’re really worth the extra cost is certainly a matter of choice. “If you can afford all organic, that’s fantastic, but it’s not feasible for most people,” says registered dietitian Cynthia Sass. “If it’s not, the most important groups to buy organic, in my opinion, include foods you eat daily and produce on the Dirty Dozen list—those with the highest pesticide residues.” If people eat eggs, dairy and meat, she also recommends buying those organic.
Halden says that vulnerable groups—including pregnant women, young children, the elderly and people suffering from allergies—may benefit the most from choosing organically produced foods. He also points out that a strictly organic diet can still be plenty unhealthy: “Eating too much sugar and meat and too few vegetables is risky, regardless of whether the shopper picks from the conventional or organic grocery selection,” he says.
It’s also important for consumers to make educated decisions about why they choose to buy organic, says Crosby—and not to get hung up on individual studies that haven’t been supported by additional research. If you’re trying to reduce exposure to pesticide residues, organic is a good choice, he says. “On the other hand, if you’re buying them because they’re more nutritious, the evidence doesn’t broadly support that,” he says.
And how to make them work in your favor
The great recession
What do economics have to do with health? At most universities they’re not even in the same building! But it turns out that a dip in the economy can lead to a rise in our weight according to a study done by John Hopkins. Researchers found that from 2008 to 2012—the period known as the great recession—weight gain was strongly correlated with the rise in unemployment, increasing the risk of obesity by 21 percent. This makes sense as one of the first things to go when our budgets get tight are luxuries like health food and gym memberships, not to mention the loss of health insurance that often accompanies a job loss. However, it may help to remember that there are many low-cost or free ways to protect your health—and an investment in you is the best one you can make.
How high you are
It’s a generation thing
That cursed smog
How many antibiotics you’ve taken
Antibiotics are one of the biggest miracles of modern medicine, no doubt about it. But those infection-fighting drugs may have unintended consequences. The more antibiotics a person takes during their lifetime, particularly during early childhood, the greater their risk of becoming obese, according to an NYU study. Researchers speculate that it has to do with killing healthy gut bacteria, decimating your microbiome along with the bad bugs, as good bacteria has been shown to help prevent weight gain. But if you were the kid with chronic ear infections, don’t fret, you can rebuild your good gut bacteria by taking a probiotic and eating plenty of fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Fido and Fifi
Owning a pet, particularly a dog, slashes the human companion’s risk of obesity, says the American Heart Association. Why? Dogs need to be walked daily and are often quite persistent, encouraging their owners to walk as well. But it’s not just the extra exercise, especially since 40 percent of dog owners confess to not walking their dog on a regular basis. The researchers add that petting an animal greatly reduces stress and depression, two other known risk factors for weight gain. So if you do have a dog, make sure to walk them daily, and in the meantime soak up all the snuggles, wet kisses, and purrs you can.
The number on your paycheck
How many trees you can count from your window
Close proximity to parks, trails, and other types of green spaces is linked with lower body weight, according to research done by the American Diabetes Association. Being able to see, and more importantly walk to, greenery encouraged people to exercise more and made it feel, well, less like exercise. Parks make physical exertion feel like fun but even if you’re not using them to exercise, simply being in the presence of nature has been shown to reduce stress, lower weight and improve your health overall. The vast majority of Americans already live within walking distance of some type of park so get out there and explore your neighborhood.
All that stuff on the food label you don’t recognize
You already know that processed foods do no favors for your waistline but it turns out it’s not just the empty calories and trans fats doing the damage. Some of the most popular food additives are linked with weight gain and obesity, according to a study done by Georgia State University. Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods for texture and to extend shelf life, are one of the worst offenders as they interfere with good gut bacteria. But some artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and even the food packaging have also been linked in research to obesity.
The study of more than 34,000 people is the first to investigate the environmental impacts of both food choices and farm production systems
A study of the diets of 34,000 people confirms that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is better for the planet than one high in animal products. The study also finds that organic food provides significant, additional climate benefits for plant-based diets, but not for diets with only moderate contribution from plant products. This is the first-ever study to look at the environmental impacts of both food choices and farm production systems.
A major new study confirms that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is better for the planet than one high in animal products. The study also finds that organic food provides significant, additional climate benefits for plant-based diets, but not for diets with only moderate contribution from plant products. Published today in open access journal Frontiers in Nutrition, this is the first study to investigate the environmental impacts of both dietary patterns and farm production systems. It is also the first to investigate the environmental impact of organic food consumption using observed diets rather than models.
Many organizations, including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, advocate the urgent adoption of more sustainable diets at a global level. Such diets include reduced consumption of animal products, which have a higher environmental impact than plant-based products. This is mainly due to the high energy requirements of livestock farming as well as the very large contribution of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions. Intensive livestock production is also responsible for significant biodiversity loss due to conversion of natural habitats to grass and feed crops.
The method of food production may also influence sustainable diets. Organic agriculture is generally considered more environmentally friendly than other modern production techniques. However, while many studies have investigated environmentally sustainable diets, these have rarely considered both dietary choices and the production method of the foods consumed.
“We wanted to provide a more comprehensive picture of how different diets impact the environment,” says Louise Seconda from the French Agence De L’Environnement Et De La Maitrise De L’Energie and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Unit one of the article’s authors. “In particular, it is of considerable interest to consider the impacts of both plant-based foods and organic foods.”
To do this, researchers obtained information on food intake and organic food consumption from more than 34,000 French adults. They used what’s called a ‘provegetarian’ score to determine preferences for plant-based or animal-based food products. The researchers also conducted production life cycle environmental impact assessments at the farm level against three environmental indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative energy demand and land occupation.
“Combining consumption and farm production data we found that across the board, diet-related environmental impacts were reduced with a plant-based diet — particularly greenhouse gas emissions,” says Louise Seconda. “The consumption of organic food added even more environmental benefits for a plant-based diet. In contrast, consumption of organic food did not add significant benefits to diets with high contribution from animal products and only moderate contribution from plant products.”
However the researchers caution that the environmental effects of production systems are not uniform and can be impacted by climate, soil types and farm management.
“We didn’t look at other indicators such as pesticide use, leaching and soil quality which are relevant to the environmental impacts of productions systems,” says Louise Seconda. “Therefore future studies could also consider these as well as supply chain and distribution impacts of food production.”
The authors also say it will be important to conduct further studies to confirm these results and to expand our understanding of how the entire food production lifecycle impacts sustainability.
Camille Lacour, Louise Seconda, Benjamin Allès, Serge Hercberg, Brigitte Langevin, Philippe Pointereau, Denis Lairon, Julia Baudry, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot. Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability? Frontiers in Nutrition, 2018; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00008
Everyday items could be causing everything from mood swings to infertility and even cancer.
Chemicals found in plastic water bottles, lipsticks, tampons, receipts and even tap water are wreaking havoc on people’s hormones, which is linked to a growing number of health problems.
Research published earlier this week reveals more than 90 percent of receipts contain the so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) and its ‘healthier alternative’ Bisphenol S (BPS), which are associated with autism, ADHD, type 2 diabetes, premature births and early onset of puberty, reports the Daily Mail.
Researchers from the Michigan-based non-profit organisation The Ecology Center analyzed 207 paper receipts from a variety of businesses collected between January and April 2017.
However despite their health concerns, such chemicals are frequently added to day-to-day products to provide scent and extend their shelf life.
In a piece for Healthista, editor Anna Magee speaks to reproductive experts, nutritional therapists and dentists on how to avoid such chemicals and detox your life.
Most of us take the mood swings, grumpiness and weight gain of fluctuating hormones for granted.
Yet toxic chemicals in our everyday lives could be making things worse.
Known as ‘xenoestrogens’, these substances, which are found in plastics, cosmetics, sanitary products, receipts and even tap water can mimic the hormone oestrogen and are linked not only to middle-aged spread but also reproductive problems, learning difficulties and even cancer.
Dr Channa Jayasena, a clinical senior lecturer and consultant in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, said: ‘We know little about such hormone altering chemicals but our increasing exposure to them is a cause for concern.
“The risk of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals is enormous and we’re just at the start of learning what they do.
“My concern is that by the time we work out what they actually do, they might be causing diseases we don’t know about.”
So, what can you do? Start by identifying the sources of fake oestrogens in your life and take simple steps to detox them.
Water bottles and other plastics
Dr Jayasena said: “Chemicals in plastics behave like oestrogen in our systems when they reach our bloodstream.”
Chief offender is BPA found in plastic containers, water bottles and linings for tinned foods and drinks. A 2016 study revealed that two out of three canned foods tested positive for BPA.
A survey by the US Centers for Disease Control found that 93 per cent of the population had measurable amounts of BPA in their systems.
According to the Food Standards Agency, there is European legislation in place which sets a maximum limit on BPA from plastics, however, such risks are being re-evaluated by European authorities due to new scientific information emerging on the dangers of such exposure.
BPA and other xenoestrogens not only effect our waistlines but also our reproductive systems.
Dr Jayasena said: “Men’s sperm counts have decreased dramatically in the last decade and we’re now looking at the part hormone disrupting chemicals in our packaging, food and water play in this.”
Dr Sara Gottfried, a US gynaecologist and author of “The Hormone Cure” and new book, “Younger: The Breakthrough Programme to Reset our Genes and Reverse Ageing”, added: “Many problems are co-related with BPA from weight gain to endometriosis and breast cancer.
“This and other xenoestrogen chemicals build up in the body, accelerating ageing and hindering weight loss.”
While some companies market plastic products as “BPA-free”, substitute chemicals, known as BPS and BPF, may be just as dangerous.
A study in April this year by the Endocrine Society in the US found that exposure to BPS could increase the aggressiveness of breast cancer, while a paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2015 reviewed 32 studies on the subject and found that all three chemicals are hormone disruptors linked to problems such as weight gain and reproductive issues.
• How to detox
Dr Gottfried said: “Heat, microwave use, dishwasher use or leaving a plastic water bottle in the sun can all release such chemicals.
“Avoid microwaving your food with cling film over it or while it’s in plastic containers.
“Use stainless steel water bottles where you can, cook and store food in glass, ceramic or stainless steel, and use glass or microwave-safe ceramics for microwaving.
“If you must use plastic containers, don’t heat them up”.
She also recommends people try and avoid tinned food or rinse their contents carefully before eating.
BPA is found in plastic water bottles, containers, and linings for tinned food and drinks.
Tap water, fruit and vegetables
Dr Jayasena said: “Xenoestrogen chemicals are in our water supply, fruit and vegetables thanks to their use in farming.”
For example, while DDT, a pesticide with proven hormone-disrupting effects, has been banned, glyphosate, a similar xenostrogen chemical linked to breast cancer and obesity, which is found in the common garden weedkiller Round Up, is still commonly available.
Round Up is one of many pesticides used in Britain that is made from chemicals with endocrine-disrupting effects, the residues of which leech into our tap water and rivers, and remains on the skin of fruit and vegetables.
• How to detox
Dr Gottfried recommends people drink filtered water, using carbon to absorb impurities and contaminants. Reverse osmosis filters can remove more chemicals but require fitting to taps at home and can be expensive.
Nutritional therapist Daniel O’Shannessy, who is also director of Bodhimaya Health Centre, says people can remove pesticides from the skin of fruit and vegetables by soaking them in water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before cooking.
They can also check websites such as the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) for their “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen”; lists of the most and least contaminated produce.
More than 90 percent of receipts contain the so-called ‘gender-bending’ chemical BP.
Receipts, sanitary products and napkins
Dr Gottfried said: “The shiny coating on receipts is giving you a dose of BPA every time you touch it and we know the skin absorbs such chemicals almost as well as when we ingest them.”
France is seeking an EU-wide ban on till receipts containing BPA, with most of its receipts being marked “sans BPA”.
Such sources of synthetic oestrogens contribute to your overall toxic load, increasing your risk of oestrogen dominance.
Other paper sources of synthetic oestrogens include sanitary towels and tampons, which contains xenoestrogens called dioxins – and are linked to fertility, immune issues and endometriosis – as well as table napkins, which may be coated in BPA.
• How to detox
Try and go receipt free, and look for organic or dioxin-free sanitary products that have not been bleached or dyed. Also opt for unbleached, uncoated napkins.
BPA is used in plastics, with the resins making composite fillings.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene found that BPA was found in the saliva of all 30 dental patients surveyed, while further research in 2012, published in the journal Paediatrics, found that children fitted with fillings made from a substance containing BPA show more behavioural problems compared to their peers.
• How to detox
Dentist James Goolnik of Bow Lane Dental Group, said: “Composite fillings are the least expensive [around £200 a tooth (NZD $380)] of all fillings after mercury and, as mercury has so many confirmed dangers, many people opt for composite.
“But while many contain synthetic oestrogen chemicals such as BPA, it’s now possible to ask for BPA-free composite fillings”.
“Alternatively, porcelain won’t contain toxic chemicals, is tooth coloured, more durable than composite and is about £500 (NZD $952) a tooth.
“If the filling isn’t visible, the best option is gold as it virtually lasts forever, is kinder to your tooth and also contains no toxic chemicals but at around £800 (NZD $1,523) a filling, it’s pricey.
“I still wouldn’t recommend having plastic fillings removed because of the BPA effect as the removal process not only leads to more tooth tissue being damaged it can aggravate the release of more chemicals into the system.”
That lipstick you cannot live without could be adding to your ostrogen load.
In the 1990s, chemicals known as parabens in body creams, lipsticks, scrubs, shampoos and more were identified as xenoestrogens, while in 2004, British researcher Philippa Darbre found them in breast cancer cells.
Likewise, a family of chemicals known as sulphates also have an oestrogen-like effect on the body and are responsible for create lathers in shampoos, body washes, detergents and soaps.
• How to detox
Dr Gottfried said: “Ignore labels such as chemical-free, ‘natural’ or ‘for sensitive skin’ as these have no regulated meaning.
Instead, opt for organic skincare and make-up, or products that are sulphate- and paraben-free.
Perfumes and scented candles
Dr Gottfried said: “Many commercial perfumes and scented candles contain phthalates, a class of chemicals found in a surprising number of common household products such as shampoos, deodorants, body washes, hair gels and nail polishes.
“There’s little doubt phthalate chemicals are a key contributor to the inability to lose weight caused by oestrogen dominance.
“Research into the effects of phthalate is ongoing but we know they cause birth defects in male foetuses, are associated with poor egg quality and early menopause in women, and may also be linked to breast cancer and type-2 diabetes”.
• How to detox
Look for phthalate-free cosmetics and unscented candles, ideally made from soya wax.
High-grade essential oils in water used with an oil burner are also a great alternative to scented candles.
Three ways to detox excess oestrogen
Simple lifestyle measures can help, according Daniel O’Shaunnessy, a nutritional therapist at the Bodhimaya Health Centre.
• Eat flaxseeds
Constipation can lead to hormonal imbalances by slowing down the passing of hormones from food and water through the gut. Flaxseeds contain fibre that helps ease this.
Try a tablespoon soaked overnight in a glass of water and then added to smoothies, porridge or taken neat.
• Eat broccoli
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, help detoxify fake oestrogen from the liver.
• Take a probiotic
This will help balance the beneficial microflora in your gut, which can help increase motility, meaning you eliminate toxins faster.
An anthropogenic mass extinction is underway that will affect all life on the planet and humans will struggle to survive the phenomenon. So says Rosemary Mason in a 2015 paper in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry. Loss of biodiversity is the most urgent of the environmental problems because this type of diversity is critical to ecosystem services and human health. Mason argues that the modern chemical-intensive industrialized system of food and agriculture is the main culprit.
New research conducted in Germany supports the contention that we are heading for an “ecological Armageddon” — similar to the situation described by Mason. The study shows the abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years. The research data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany and has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture as it seems likely that the widespread use of pesticides is an important factor.
Cited in The Guardian, Sussex University professor Dave Goulson, who is part of the team behind the new study, says, “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life… If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”
In the same piece, it is noted that flying insects are vital because they pollinate flowers. Moreover, many, not least bees, are important for pollinating key food crops. Most fruit crops are insect-pollinated and insects also provide food for many animals, including birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and important decomposers, breaking down dead plants and animals, and insects form the base of thousands of food chains.
The blatant disregard over the use of these substances by regulatory agencies around the world is apparent.
Rosemary Mason has been providing detailed accounts of massive insect declines on her own nature reserve in South Wales for some time. She has published first-hand accounts of the destruction of biodiversity on the reserve in various books and documents that have been submitted to relevant officials and pesticide regulation authorities in the U.K. and beyond. The research from Germany validates her findings.
Mason has written numerous open letters to officials citing reams of statistical data to support the contention that agrochemicals, especially Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup, have devastated the natural environment and have also led to spiralling rates of illness and disease, especially among children.
She indicates how the widespread use on agricultural crops of neonicotinoid insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate, both of which cause immune suppression, make species vulnerable to emerging infectious pathogens, driving large-scale wildlife extinctions, including essential pollinators.
Providing evidence to show how human disease patterns correlate remarkably well with the rate of glyphosate usage on corn, soy and wheat crops, which has increased due to ‘Roundup Ready’ crops, Mason indicates how our over-reliance on chemicals in agriculture is causing irreparable harm to all beings on this planet.
The global pesticides industry has created chemicals of mass destruction and succeeded in getting many of their poisons on the commercial market by highly questionable means:
“The EPA has been routinely lying about the safety of pesticides since it took over pesticide registrations in 1970,” writes Carol Van Strum.
Van Strum highlights the faked data and fraudulent tests that led to many highly toxic agrochemicals reaching the market — and they still remain in use, regardless of the devastating impacts on wildlife and human health.
The blatant disregard over the use of these substances by regulatory agencies around the world is apparent.
The research from Germany follows a warning by a chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government who claimed that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored.”
And prior to that particular warning, there was a report delivered to the UN Human Rights Council saying that pesticides have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole. Authored by Hilal Elver, special rapporteur on the right to food, and Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on toxics, the report states, “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.”
“The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies.”
The report recommends a move towards a global treaty to govern the use of pesticides and (like many other official reports) a shift to sustainable practice based on natural methods of suppressing pests and crop rotation and organically produced food.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) raised the red flag about the use of harmful synthetic pesticides, yet, despite the warnings, the agrochemical giants have ever since been conning us with snake oil under the pretense of “feeding the world.” When you drench soil with proprietary synthetic chemicals, introduce company-patented genetically tampered crops or continuously monocrop as part of a corporate-controlled industrial farming system, you kill essential microbes, upset soil balance and end up feeding soil a limited “doughnut diet” of unhealthy inputs.
In their arrogance (and ignorance), these companies claim to know what they are doing and attempt to get the public and various agencies to bow before the altar of corporate ‘science’ and its scientific priesthood.
Modern farming is in effect a principal source of global toxification and soil degradation.
Chemical-intensive Green Revolution technology and ideology has effectively uprooted indigenous/traditional agriculture across the planet and has recast farming according to the needs of global agribusiness and its supply chains. This has had devastating effects on regions, rural communities, diets, soils, health and water pollution. However, this financially lucrative venture for transnational corporations continues apace, spearheaded by the Gates Foundation in Africa and the World Bank’s “enabling the business of agriculture.”
It took a long time to curtail the activities of big tobacco. Tackling big agribusiness and its entrenchment within the heart of governments and international institutions is urgent. Unfortunately, given the scale of the problem and what is at stake, time is not on our side.
Why you should check your coffee label twice.
For most North Americans, waking up with a fresh cup of coffee is the only way to get out of bed. But next to organic strawberries and organic cereal, you might be forgetting about pesticide-free coffee.
Recently, coffee has appeared on a number of lists for containing pesticides. Some groups and articles suggest agrochemicals used on stems and leaves could affect coffee beans, “in which case coffee beans could be carrying their residues.” Meanwhile other studies find the high roasting temperatures eliminate most pesticide residues, although in one study “green, roasted and instant coffee samples” treated with insecticide directly on the leaves contained residues.
While the health risks on the consumer are likely minimal and still a matter of debate, there’s no question about the impacts of pesticides on the environment and farm workers. Coffee is one of the largest and most important crops in the world, worth roughly $16.5 billion in the United States alone. The International Coffee Organization estimatesthere are nearly 26 million people employed in the coffee business across 52 countries. Next to Brazil and the European Union, the United States is one of the largest consumers of coffee and the largestmarket for organic coffee. Still, you might think organic coffee (farmed without the use of pesticides) would be close to conventional coffee in numbers. But organic coffee only accounts for 6.6 percentof the world’s harvested coffee.
It’s no wonder organic coffee hasn’t taken the coffee world over. In “Organic coffee: Why Latin America’s farmers are abandoning it” Ezra Fieser reports that farmers can get roughly 485 pounds more coffee from one acre, applying 250 pounds of chemical fertilizer per acre. Compare this to 285 pounds on an organic farm. He adds, Latin American farmers had made the switch to organic crops but they couldn’t sell their coffee at the higher price. “From Mexico to Costa Rica, at least 10 percent of growers [defected] in the past three years.”
Growing conventional coffee will also be affected by climate change. According to the International Trade Centre, climate change will mean an increase in pests and diseases. This could mean a greater dependence on pesticides and possibly even more coffee grown under irrigation, which would mean water supplies would also suffer.
The use of pesticides continues to add to soil erosion and polluted waters from soil runoff. And there’s still another problem with pesticides. According to the IFC, it’s estimated that in Africa alone, “there could be as much as 50,000 tons of obsolete pesticides” stored in hazardous stockpiles. The problem with disposal of pesticide is difficult because it can cost $3,000 to $5,000 per ton to remove. But, because the materials are not all the same, there’s “no blanket solution.”
Although studies have been conflicted on pesticide residues in drinking coffee, there’s a bigger consensus when it comes to farmer safety. In a recent study, scientists surveyed a random sample of 81 coffee farmers in eastern Jamaica where coffee production employs “more than 50,000 people and contributes 7 percent of the island’s agricultural earnings.”
In the study 78 percent of the farmers experienced symptoms related to pesticide handling, including “dizziness, headaches, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest.” Much of this could be attributed to improper handling and little to no training on pesticide handling — a common problem in countries with no oversight or regulation. In four of the observation sessions, not a single farmer used protection like a facemask or rubber gloves. Battling pests like the coffee cherry borer and coffee rust is much easier if you have a toxic pesticide to kill them. Unfortunately a number of pesticides being used have been linked to animal and wildlife deaths and in some cases human deaths.
For millions of coffee aficionados, the coffee of choice comes from Starbucks. It’s true Starbucks is one of the largest purchasers of coffee. They have made it their mission to provide fairtrade coffee and report that 95.3 percent of their coffee is ethically sourced. Still, organic coffee is harder to come at a Starbucks because only 1.1 percent of Starbucks’ coffee is organic.
All the types of coffee labels could make your head spin more than a quadruple shot espresso. There’s organic, fairtrade, shade-grown (which mean the coffee is grown under shade, signifying its commitment to the rainforest). Utz-certified coffee provides traceability programs and fair labor for farm workers and an “appropriate and modest use of fertilizers, pesticides, water and energy. Almost half of all fairtrade is certified organic as well. But on the issue of pesticides, if you want organic you’ll still want to verify the USDA organic label, as there are strict rules for any imports being labeled organic.
Clarissa A. Leon is AlterNet’s food editor. She formerly served as an investigative research assistant at The Daily Beast and The Nation Institute.