An Alarming Community Health Risk

Pesticide-Contaminated Baby Food

Art Madsen, M.Ed.

Transnational Research Associates

A recent and highly publicized report has been released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in Washington, D.C. concerning the high risks associated with certain fruits and vegetables which have been exposed to a dangerous category of pesticides known as organophosphates (EWG Release, 1998). The report provides disturbing details concerning the toxic nature of one in four peaches or one in eight apples, for example, when consumed by pregnant women and young children under the age of five years. Irreversible brain and nerve damage is occurring to millions of children each week in this country. This constitutes a major community health problem which is deserving of high level attention, the report confirms.

The reader of the EWG report is amazed to learn that not only are grapes, apples, peaches and pears contaminated, but that major baby food producers, such as Heinz and Gerber (Silby, 1997), have been manufacturing insecticide-contaminated baby food for decades. The EWG has identified the 13 major chemicals which are included in the organophosphate group under study. Among them are infamous neurotoxins such as methyl parathion and dimethoate, which have been found in baby-food and elsewhere.

From their offices in Washington, the EWG has launched a campaign to eliminate these toxins from the food chain, by making them unlawful. Congress has been passing legislation, such as the Food Quality Protection Act; but, for some reason, growers have been able to continue using dangerous insecticides in order to increase crop yield. Further down the food chain, baby food companies have not been willing to spend the money necessary to remove these toxins from their final product.

Although this problem is occurring nationally, the Borderlands region in the American Southwest is also significantly affected. According to another pesticide study (Kourous, 1998), large quantities of toxic chemicals are sprayed on crops and residue remains on the affected fruit. Like the findings in the EWG analysis, Kourous also confirms that neurological damage is occurring when these crops are consumed by the adult population or used in baby food.

With respect once again to the national study, the federal data which is used by the EWG seems to have been analyzed properly. The FDA and the USDA used more than 80,000 food samples and examined more than 4,000 children. Using this information, and additional data, federal investigators concluded that more than 77,000 newborn babies each day are subject to high-risk when consuming apple juice and fruit products prepared by major baby food manufacturers. There is a tone of outrage in the EWG report, as should be the case.

The recommendations of the report are 'urgent'. They specify that these toxic substances must be banned from use at all levels of production. Comprehensive measures must be taken, the report emphasizes, to continue research in the area of neurotoxicity so that all poisonous chemicals are removed from food consumed by pregnant mothers, infants and, in fact, by the entire community.


Kourous, G., "Community Health in the Borderlands:An Overview", Borderlines, 6:4, May 1998, 1-5.

Kourous Article

Silby, D.W., "Social Venture Capital: Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future", The Journal of Investing, Winter 1997, 108-111.

................... "One Million Kids a Day Exposed to Unsafe Levels of Toxic Pesticides in Fruit, Vegetable, and Baby Food", Environmental Working Group, Tides Center, Washington, D.C., January 29, 1998.

EWG Release