Pesticide in Food: A Silent Killer (Part-2)

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Health Hazards

Indian diet contains vegetables as important component in food, because majority of Indians are vegetarians and per capita consumption of vegetables as approximately 135g per day. Therefore, information on pesticide residue in vegetables is very important for human health. Pesticides can create serious health problems like neurotoxicity, immunological effects, reproduction effects, development effects, carcinogenicity, etc. in fact, these aspects are taken into consideration before the registration of the pesticides, the way they enter the body through inhalation, indigestion or absorption through skin and also the frequency of exposure.

The evidence of direct application of a chemical to the food source, through unscientific methods, pure commercial interest, the presence of pollutants in the environment from industrial sources or by transfer, can be observed in the residues found in humans food chain and feed for livestock.

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Consumers are potentially exposed to residues with a risk of adverse health effects.

  • Many of these chemicals are called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). They are active substances which disrupt the hormonal system of the human body which is responsible for the good development and functioning of the vital organs.

Up to 30 different endocrine disrupting pesticides are found in fruits and vegetables. Generally, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce or leafy vegetables, cauliflower, cabbage, brinjal, gourd, and apples, guava, mango, pineapple are the food items that have the highest dose of endocrine disrupting pesticide residues.

A large body of scientific evidence has linked EDCs to chronic diseases, such as decreased fertility, hormone-related cancers (breast cancer and prostate cancer), brain damage, obesities, and diabetes. What causes great anxiety is that these diseases are on a rise even in India.

  • Another variety of pesticides called persistent chlorinated pesticide (PCP) residues are found in selected market vegetables of root and leaf origin like sugar beet, fenugreek, coriander, etc. India is the fourth largest producer of these pesticides in the world after US, Japan and China. Domestic consumption of pesticides is about 50 TMT annually and 13-14 percent share of pesticides used for vegetables and fruits production. The states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka have highest use of pesticides while the states like Bihar, West Bengal, North eastern states have lowest use to pesticides.
  • Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) have been widely used in public health and agriculture production in developed and developing countries including India. OCPs are of much concern in the environment because of their persistence, long range transport nature, toxicity as well as bio cumulative tendency. OCP exposure has been associated with human health risk of arthritis, skin disease, bone disorder, cancer and nerve disorder.

Chemical Cocktails

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are all the more dangerous when they are mixed like a “cocktail”. Eating fruits and vegetables sometimes comes to ingesting on average residues from 20 different endocrine disrupting particles. Lettuces, curry leaves, and leafy vegetables have the highest level of EDCs, closely followed by tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, pepper. The results were alarming.

There is no “safe” level of exposure. One of the particularities of EDCs is that their effects can be observed at even very low doses, which is why there is no such thing as a “safe” level of exposure.

Even though the residue levels of Organochlorine pesticides in vegetables are below MRLs prescribed by Food Safety and Standard Authority of India, it is yet to be found out what effect such low and persistent doses have on human body.

Here is a list of common pesticides that affect humans, animals and the environment in adverse ways. They can be found in practically every food source today.

Trade name: Long-term Effects

  • Camphechlor: Cancer suspect, toxic to fish, very persistent.
  • Chlordane/Heptachlor: Leukemia suspect, toxic to wildlife, very persistent.
  • Chlordimeform: Cancer suspect, bladder damage, toxic to wildlife.
  • DBCP: Cancer risk, male sterility, persists in water.
  • DDT: Cancer causing, damage to liver, nerve, brain, extremely persistent, toxic to wildlife OCP.
  • Aldrin/Dieldrin/Endrin: Cancer suspect, birth defects, very persistence, toxic to wildlife.
  • EDB: Potent cancer cause, birth defects, lung, liver damage, very persistent.
  • BHC/Lindane: Proven cancer cause, miscarriage, leukemia suspect, very persistent, toxic to fish.
  • Paraquat: No antidote, lung scarring.
  • PCP: Nervous system damage, liver damage, skin disease.
  • 2, 4, 5-T: Potent cancer cause, birth defects, toxic to fish, very persistent.
  • EDCs: Endosulfan: Causing damage to nervous system and physical deformity, in Kerala;
  • Bifenthrin: Causing ovulatory dysfunction in females;
  • Carbendazim and Benomyl: Causing adverse effects on male reproductive systems (decreased fertility observed in rats);
  • Chlorphyrifosmethyl: Blocks the activity of the male sex hormones;
  • Mancozeb: A multi-potent carcinogen, capable of causing at least 8 different types of cancer-breast cancer, liver, pancreas, thyroid, etc.
  • Prochloraz: Causing feminization of male offspring and sexual malformation.

 Consumer Tips

Eat organic! Organic production is to a large extent free of synthetic pesticides. Food items are grown according to very strict set of rules which guarantee that harmful chemicals are not used. PAN Europe, therefore, strongly encourages consumers to eat organic to the highest extent possible.

If you do not consume organic products only, set priorities:

  • Avoid eating non-organic products which often contain pesticide residues such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and apples-especially, children and pregnant women.
  • Make sure that small children do not put unpeeled citrus fruits into their mouth. Pesticides residues are indeed mostly concentrated in the skin of the product.
  • Washing agro-products is always a good habit to keep in mind.
  • Consumers are advised to grow or choose organic products.