The United Nations proclaims their mission statement “to work for the protection of all human rights for all people; to help empower people to realize their rights; to assist those responsible for upholding such rights in ensuring that they are implemented.” Now, food experts are demanding that this mission includes the protection of all people from the widespread harms of pesticides in food.

UN Report on Pesticides in food

Hilal Elver is against pesticides in food

Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, presented a special report to the general assembly dated 27 February – 24 March 2017. Though the United Nations has no power to impact pesticide regulations directly, it’s a major step to growing worldwide awareness of the issue, especially among influential world leaders.

The report argues against pesticide manufacturers’ claim that they are necessary to produce enough food to feed Earth’s growing population. Not only do pesticides cause real harm to human health and the environment, but they also have not helped fight world hunger. A lot of farmers spray pesticides on commodity crops like soy and palm oil, which do not address the need for food. Overall, the report is harshly critical of the pesticide industry in agriculture and calls for an end to the widespread use of pesticides in food[2].

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Pesticides in Food

Agricultural corporations use pesticides on almost all conventional (non-organic) produce, including packaged fruit juices, vegetable sauces, and other packaged foods. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the top 12 offending foods when it comes to pesticides in food: apples, celery, sweet bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuces, cucumbers, blueberries, and potatoes.

If you can, try to choose organic versions of these items to avoid the risks. Washing your fruits and vegetables before eating or cooking with them will also dramatically reduce your exposure to pesticides.If you’re interested, here’s the best way to clean produce.

Effects of Pesticides

Ms. Hilal Elver’s report to the General Assembly focuses mainly on the effects pesticides have on agriculture workers, not on the risks to consumers. Imagine, if it’s harmful to consume low levels of pesticides in your food, how dangerous it is to work next to an industrial sprayer, pumping the poisons directly onto the plants around you.

Around the world, exploited workers, including child laborers, routinely work near, breathe, and get covered in pesticides. It gets into their lungs, stomachs, and skin, causing health issues. They also bring it home in their hair, clothes, and shoes, exposing their families to the poisons[2].

According to a fact sheet by the University of Washington, acute pesticide poisonings result in symptoms like nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety, and confusion, which can be quite severe. Also, studies have linked chronic, lower dose exposure with respiratory problems, memory disorders, skin conditions, depression, miscarriage, congenital disabilities, cancer and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease[3].

Low dose pesticide exposure has also linked to ADHD diagnoses in young people aged 8-15[3].

Pesticides and Cancer

Pesticide exposure was shown to increase your risk of bladder cancer [4] and kidney cancer [5], in two independent meta-analysis studies. Additionally, check out this article for more details about the link between pesticide consumption and cancer.

Organic Foods and Other Alternative Solutions

The report states that even though pesticide use has become widespread, it has not had a significant effect on crop loss. So what’s the point? This issue at hand is much more widespread — the reason it does not reduce yield loss is that while it kills the pests, it also kills the natural predators of the pests, such as spiders, for example. Worst of all, it kills the pollinators, such as bees. Crops are part of a natural ecosystem which helps them grow and helps our natural ecosystems thrive. So pesticide-free agriculture doesn’t only keep the end consumers safe, it helps to support a healthier planet.

If this report makes an impact, we’ll start seeing more countries follow Denmark’s example. Denmark is the world’s first 100% organic country. Another idea that will make an impact is agrihoods.

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