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The persistence of pesticides



A frozen dinner I saw came with the following "serving suggestion": Defrost. Good idea! But what's a mother to do with fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticide residues? Oh, you say, that's not possible because our government sets standards to protect our children from these poisons.

Before you swallow that, check out the March issue of Consumer Reports. It analyzes the pesticides on and in 27,000 samples of produce taken right out of supermarket bins, and it finds that a startling number contain unacceptable levels of some highly toxic chemicals, with children being especially endangered. Seven items stood out as being hundreds of times more toxic than the rest: apples, grapes, green beans, peaches, pears, spinach and winter squash. Yes, these are foods we all consider to be good for you, but not when they are laced with a medicine cabinet of pesticides.

Methyl parathion is the most prevalent poison that Consumer Reports found. It's an organophosphate insecticide that attacks the neurological system of insects -- but also of humans. Two out of five peaches tested contained unacceptable levels of this killer chemical.

Then there's Dieldrin, a cancer-causing pesticide removed from the market 25 years ago. But these toxics don't just disappear from the soil. Even today, three-fourths of the winter squash tested by Consumer Reports contained Dieldrin. Well, you might think, I'll just wash it off. Think again; like many pesticides, Dieldrin is absorbed into the pulp of the produce, so it's impossible to wash off.

There are safe and economical alternatives readily available. Let's encourage their use. Government policy should shift from protecting chemical manufacturers to helping farmers shift to sustainable methods of production.

Meanwhile, to get fruits and veggies that are good and truly good for you, look for certified organic produce.

Jim Hightower is an author, radio commentator, public speaker and political sparkplug from Austin, Texas. For more populist commentary, visit his website.

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