Organic Foods, Children and Babies – Are Our Kids More Vulnerable to Pesticides than We Are?

Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of exposure to synthetic pesticides, according to a mounting number of studies conducted since the 1980’s.  As the evidence mounts that babies and children – who have lower body weights and faster metabolisms than adults, as well as developing organs and bodies – are more negatively impacted than their parents and grandparents, families need to be aware of how to safely and healthily feed and nourish their most precious gems – their kids and grand kids.

Choosing organic products can go a long way toward minimizing a child’s exposure to pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, and other harmful substances that may be in the food supply. Plus, studies show that organic foods contain a wide range of nutrients that help to keep children healthy, that are found to be depleted in soils where non-traditional methods of growing have caused a dwindling depleted of vital nutrients in previously rich, loamy soil.   One nutrient of great importance that has been exhausted by modern factory farming methods that do not include crop rotation and composting is zinc.

Zinc is most well known for its essential role in maintaining respiratory health, and also plays a  vital, yet lesser known role in women’s reproductive health.  Studies conducted in Asia found that teens who supplemented with zinc were able to stop pain associated with periods.  Babies are found to have fewer incidences of “cradle cap,” thrush, and ear infections when supplementing with zinc. Until modern times, zinc was plentiful in soils, and the human immune system evolved to rely upon zinc.  Now, in many places in the world, the soils are deficient in zinc, and at a time in world history where unparalleled stress levels are placing increased demands on the immune system.  Zinc deficiency is a worldwide problem in children as a direct result of non-organic farming, and in countries such as India, where traditional Western medicine is staunchly followed, and pesticide use is unregulated, medical doctors regularly prescribe zinc to children and adults.  Restoring the soil through organic, sustainable methods of growing is a part of the solution to maintaining immune health in babies, children and teens.

What does “organic” mean?

The “organic” label on foods informs you that the food was grown and produced in accordance with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Farms that sell less than $5000 of organic products per year are exempt from having their practices certified (by an agent accredited by USDA’s National Organic Program) as compliant  with federal law governing organics.  Many farms are certified by 2 agencies.

USDA organic standards are designed to protect and clarify the meaning of organic to consumers. In broad strokes, the standards prohibit synthetic pesticides, genetically modified ingredients, irradiation, and the use of bio-solids (sewage sludge) as fertilizer. Organic livestock eat organic feed and are not given antibiotics or hormones, and have access to pasture. Producers keep written audit trails to demonstrate that organic integrity is maintained throughout farming, processing, production, and transportation of organic foods.  If the food you give your children and babies doesn’t say that it’s  “Certified Organic,” then it may contain chemicals that mimic the cancer-causing form of estrogen in the body, genetically-modified ingredients, human wastes, and high doses of radiation as a preservative.  Since kids weigh less and usually absorb nutrients from foods more effectively than adults, these additives and chemicals can adversely affect their growth, development, health and happiness.

In order to farm successfully within organic rules, organic farmers use a variety of methods to create eco-systems that are balanced, naturally pest-resistant, and appropriate to the climate and the region.  Modern organic farming methods that include a wide basis of scientific knowledge and thousands of years of history and experience, while more labor intensive than factory farming methods, produce high yields of delicious, healthy food that enriches humans, wildlife, AND the soil.

Visit http://www.usda.gov/nop to learn more about the National Organic Program and organic certification.

Why Organic Foods May Matter Most to Children

Children may be much more at risk than adults for pesticide exposure, and may suffer greater harm to health and development from exposure research and analysis has shown in the past 3 decades. Yet standards for safety and tolerance limits for these chemicals rarely include adequate consideration of the risks to children.   Until very recently,  the established food safety standards for food chemicals were for healthy adults.

Recent laws now mandate factoring in these risks and re-evaluating safety limits, but the wheels of re-evaluation have turned very slowly. Organic foods, therefore, may be especially important to more fully protect children from the risks of exposure, even when pesticide levels in foods are within existing legal limits.

Why are children at greater risk? First, they ingest more food and water per pound of body weight than adults, so any exposure is greater in proportion to their size. Second, these chemicals may be more harmful to developing organs and bodily systems, including neurological and reproductive systems, than they are to mature bodies, as most pesticides work by disturbing reproduction in pests – and unfortunately, these chemicals also disrupt hormones and reproduction in wildlife and human beings.

In a study published in May 2002 in Food Additives and Contaminants, organic foods were shown to have significantly lower pesticide residues than conventionally grown foods (for a number of reasons, such as persistent residues in soil that last for many years, some organic foods may still show residue).

Other studies show the environmental benefits of organic agriculture to air, soil and water, lowering the total toxic burden to our ecosystems. As demand for organic foods continues to grow, more farmers are likely to view organic methods as a viable and marketable option, helping to stabilize supply and price.  Supermarkets such as Whole Foods also collaborate with government assistance programs that provide food for children of low income households and offer organic food choices and education to thousands of children and their parents.

It adds up to an evolving landscape that increasingly allows for – and makes a compelling and credible case for – including organic foods in children’s diets whenever possible. As concerned parents, teachers, administrators, and foodservice professionals create and insist on innovation and reform in school lunch programs, organic foods make sense as part of the picture.   Dozens of programs exist in the public school system in Washington state alone as growing public awareness and activism leads to positive growth and change on behalf of their children and families.

Learn More About Children, Pesticides, and Organic Foods:

BOOKS:
Wargo, John. Our Children’s Toxic Legacy: How Science and Law Fail to Protect Us from Pesticides (Yale University Press, Second Edition, 1998)

Landrigan, Philip J. et al. Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World: 101 Smart Solutions for Every Family (Rodale Press, 2002)

Lipson, Elaine. The Organic Foods Sourcebook (Mcgraw-Hill Contemporary, 2001).

ON THE WEB:
1.  Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org
EWG has conducted research and published many substantive reports on children, pesticides, and other environmental toxins and concerns. Visit the site for downloadable reports, including “How ‘Bout Them Apples? Pesticides in Children’s Food Ten Years After Alar,” “Overexposed: Organophosphate Insecticides in Children’s Food,” and more.

2.  Children’s Health Environmental Coalition: www.checnet.org

3.  Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com (see also www.organic-center.org)

4. Sensa product information.

REPORTS and ARTICLES:

1.  National Academy of Sciences. Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. Washington: National Academy Press, 1993.

Dr. Lisanti at Integrative Med Solutions in Westchester, New York uses acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and naturopathic medicine modalities including nutrition to meet the health care needs of his patients with problems associated with the immune system and nutrition, including infants, toddlers, children and teens. If you or your child is affected by your diet, allergies, has developmental issues, or environmental concerns contact  Dr. Lisanti at Integrative Med Solutions to schedule an appointment.

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