Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's In That Food? Part Three: Locally-grown Strawberries & Pesticides - Lots of Them!

By Marcie Barnes

Strawberry season is in full-swing across the nation, and if you're like me, you love going out to the strawberry fields to pick some of that sweet, juicy, healthy goodness from the plants. And of course, you can't help but eat a few yourself….if you're a kid, probably more than a few. But there's a dark side to the local strawberry patch. Most strawberries are grown
commercially. And that means they use nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides. Lots of pesticides.

This article gives lots of shocking tidbits, such as the fact that 371 pesticides are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on strawberries. Recent data from shows that strawberries rank high on the list for produce found to have high levels of pesticides still on them once they arrive on the store shelf. Which makes me wonder how much they are washed. In any case, Dr. Green gives more scary detail on the types of pesticides found in this 'Report Card' on Pesticides in Strawberries. A little more research yielded another interesting factoid: a new hand lotion has been developed to protect workers picking in strawberry fields from absorbing pesticides into their skin "Arrangements were made to test urine samples of a small group of workers before, during and after picking strawberries in a field that had been sprayed with malathion 7-10 days earlier. Malathion is commonly used to control pests that can damage the fruit as it becomes ready for harvest."

Wikipedia states that "Malathion itself is not toxic; however, absorption or ingestion into the human body readily results in its metabolism to malaoxon, which is toxic in high amounts. Chronic exposure to low levels of malathion have been hypothesized to impair memory, but this is disputed. There is currently no reliable information on adverse health effects of chronic exposure to malathion". the list of pesticides found on strawberries here contains some additional really scary contenders in the pesticide arena. I want to know, what is being done to protect the consumers (mainly children) who go into these fields to pick and eat?

I don't think it's a huge deal that our son had quite a few of these likely pesticide-laden berries in the field, because he is very healthy, but I was sure to take the rest of our bounty home and wash them very thoroughly. Even then, because we do not peel strawberries, I bet there was a lot of residue left. I'm off to try and find a local, organic source for my produce. Unfortunately, as this article points out, the Farmer's Market probably is full of commercial growers as well…I guess I'll be growing my own garden and joining an organic CSA in the fall, because in addition to all this, "organic strawberries ripen more leisurely, with more time to soak up nutrients from sun and soil." This statement has been backed up (**finally**) by solid research showing that organic produce is indeed healthier for you.


End of the series, for now. Would you like to see this as a regular feature? Leave a comment!

Photo credit goes to: me! That's our son holding a basket of likely pesticide-laden strawberries. They were yummy :) :P

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