Organic Consumers Association

Eating Organics Cuts Kids' Pesticide Exposure

Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
Eating Organics Cuts Kids' Pesticide Loads
January 31, 2003

A University of Washington study analyzed pesticide breakdown products
(metabolites) in pre-school aged children and found that children eating
organic fruits and vegetables had concentrations of pesticide
metabolites six times lower than children eating conventional produce.
The study compared metabolite concentrations of organophosphorus (OP)
pesticides (a class of insecticides that disrupt the nervous system) in
the urine of 39 urban and suburban children aged 2 to 4 years. The
researchers' findings point to a relatively simple way for parents to
reduce their children's chemical loads--serve organic produce.

The authors focused on children's dietary pesticide exposure because
children are at greater risk for two reasons: they eat more food
relative to body mass, and they eat foods higher in pesticide
residues--such as juices, fresh fruits and vegetables. An earlier study
cited by the authors looked at pesticide metabolites in the urine of 96
urban and suburban children and found OP pesticides in the urine of all
children but one. The parents of the child with no pesticide metabolites
reported buying exclusively organic produce.

Researchers recruited children for the study outside of conventional and
organic grocery stores in the Seattle metropolitan region and asked
parents to record all food consumed in a three-day period prior to
collecting their child's urine over the next 24 hours. Based on the food
diaries, the study assigned the children into groups consuming at least
75% organic or at least 75% conventional fruits and vegetables. Parents
were also asked about household pesticide use in their homes and on
gardens, lawns and pets. Although the authors found that parents of
children eating conventional diets were more likely to report some home
pesticide use, they did not find significant differences in
concentrations of pesticide metabolites based on this use.

The children's urine was tested for five metabolites of OP pesticides
which are registered in the U.S. and frequently applied to food crops.
The study focused on these pesticides because they are metabolized into
several easily recognizable compounds. Breakdown products of pesticides
such as malathion, azinphos-methyl, parathion, oxydemeton-methyl,
phosmet, methyl parathion, methidatihon and dimethoate were found at the
highest concentrations. Of these pesticides, azinphos-methyl and phosmet
are the two primarily used on fresh produce within the U.S. Lower
concentrations were found of breakdown products from diazinon and

The researchers found median concentrations of OP metabolites six times
lower in the children with organic diets. Average concentrations for the
organic group were actually nine times lower, suggesting that some
children eating conventional produce had much higher concentrations of
OP metabolites in their systems.

Because many of the OP pesticides break down into identical metabolites,
the study did not provide information on the specific pesticides
children were exposed to. However, the study did determine that some
children were at risk for consuming more OP pesticides than the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers "safe" as a daily dose.
The researchers concluded that organic fruits and vegetables can reduce
exposure levels from above to below EPA chronic reference doses,
"thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of
negligible risk."

These findings confirm what is already known about pesticide residues on
conventional produce. Consumers Union analyzed U.S. Department of
Agriculture residue data for all pesticides for 1999 and 2000 and warned
parents of small children to limit or avoid conventionally grown foods
known to have high residues such as cantaloupes, green beans (canned or
frozen), pears, strawberries, tomatoes (Mexican grown) and winter
squash. The Seattle study, which reflects children's food diaries, adds
apples to that list.

Susan Kegley, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network states, "We
have been concerned for a long time about continuous exposure to
organochlorine pesticides because they persist in our bodies for years.
This study reveals that we are continuously exposed to OP pesticides,
not because they linger in our bodies, but because we are persistently
being exposed through the food we eat every day."
The study's main conclusion--eating organic fruits and vegetables can
significantly reduce children's pesticide loads--is information that
parents can act on to reduce their children's risk. A secondary
conclusion--that small children may be exceeding "safe" levels of
pesticide exposure--is information that regulators should act on and, at
the very least, reduce uses of these pesticides on food crops.
Related News:


Organophosphorus pesticide exposure or urban and suburban pre-school
children with organic and conventional diets, Cynthia L. Curl, Richard
A. Fenske, Kai Elgethun, Environmental Health Perspectives, October 13,
2002, National Institute of Environmental Sciences, EHP Online,; Do You Know What You're Eating? February 1999,
Consumers Union of United States, Inc,; Pesticide residues
in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S.
data sets, Food Additives and Contaminants, May 2002,

Contact: PANNA
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and
reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the
mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North
America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to
advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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