Do pesticides in food affect humans?

The science is becoming increasingly clear that even low levels of exposure to pesticides can harm human health, and children are particularly vulnerable. Insecticides (bug killers), herbicides (weed killers), and fungicides (fungus killers) are all pesticides.

Pesticides and herbicides are chemicals used to control any organism that might invade or damage crops, food stores or homes. Pesticides are used all around us, in homes and gardens, schools, parks and agricultural fields.

Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides
are used in the United States (US) each year,
and approximately 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides are used worldwide

Insecticides Can Have Neurotoxic (affect brain and nervous system) Effects In Humans

Insecticides are generally the most acutely (immediately) toxic. Many are designed to attack an insect’s brain and nervous system, which can mean they have neurotoxic effects in humans as well. Herbicides are more widely used (Roundup and atrazine are the two most used pesticides in the world) and present chronic risks. 

Glyphosate (Roundup weed killer) for breakfast anyone?….

Australians are eating the Roundup chemical ‘glyphosate’ for breakfast and parents are unknowingly feeding it to infants in baby food. The so-called ‘safe’ weed killer ingredient, which has been linked to cancer and sparked multi-million-dollar law suits, has been detected in grain-based foods by Australia’s food standards agency.

Glyphosate was found in multi-grain, wholemeal, spelt, rye and white breads, savoury biscuits and crackers, and rice-based breakfast cereals, flours and crackers in Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ) latest Total Diet Survey.

Some persistent pesticides have been found to concentrate in the milk and meat of farmed animals through contaminated animal feed, as well as in fish in contaminated waters. A 20-year study by the US Geological Survey found pesticides at levels potentially harmful to aquatic life in 60% of the country’s rivers and streams in agricultural areas. Pesticides not only affect fish and other aquatic life, there has been a massive deterioration of bird life due to DDT pesticide exposure. DDT was banned in many countries since the 1970’s and 80’s, although the ongoing damage from extensive DDT use is still being recognised.

According to a 2000 study by the USDA and a 2019 study by the University of Melbourne, Australia, drinking water can also be potentially contaminated with pesticides. Become more mindful of the quality of the water you are drinking. Water filtering jugs and under sink filtering systems may help to remove some or all pesticides in household tap water, or purchase spring water from reputable sources such as local farmers markets.

Buy Organic Where Possible
to Reduce Exposure to Pesticides

You can lower health risks brought about by hazardous pesticide use by choosing organic foods. If eating organic isn’t possible, reduce your exposure to pesticides through food by peeling produce and trimming the fat from meat and fish (where pesticides are more likely to accumulate); washing and scrubbing fruits and vegetables and selecting foods from different sources to avoid potentially high exposure to a single pesticide.

Harmful effects of pesticides on fruits and vegetables

Some health risks that may be caused by the accumulation of pesticides in the body include:

  • Higher risk of Parkinson’s disease
  • Increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Hormone-related cancers such as breast, thyroid and ovarian cancer
  • Increased risk of prostate, lung and liver cancer
  • May affect neurological and behavioural development in children
  • Increased chance of ADHD and autism spectrum disorder in children

Pregnant women and children are most susceptible to pesticide exposure

If you’re pregnant or have children, unborn babies and children are most susceptible to pesticide exposure because their immune systems, bodies and brains are still developing. Pesticides can also be passed from mother to child in the womb, as well as through breast milk.

How to reduce the use of, and exposure to, pesticides

  • buy only organic or chemical-free produce
  • buy only grass-fed organic meats
  • purchase from local farmers markets
  • avoid use of pesticides and insecticides around the home
  • grown your own fruit, vegetables and herbs
  • avoid purchasing pre-packaged goods
  • avoid take-away food
  • use non-chemical management of lawns and gardens
  • have a ‘no shoes’ policy in your home. Pesticides can be tracked into your home from visitors walking across lawns and gardens that have been treated with chemical fertilisers and residues.