When it comes to the issue of organic food, there’s one area that I’m not willing to bend on: baby food. Now, baby food is a far way off (let’s do labor, delivery, and breastfeeding first), but what type of baby food we’ll be feeding the little guy or girl is very important to me.
Most sources agree: parents should be concerned about pesticides in their children’s foods. The issue is compounded for babies and children for several reasons: of course, they’re smaller than adults; they tend to eat the same foods over and over, increasing their exposure to certain pesticides; such chemicals can impact and block development; and children absorb pesticides more easily and are more intensely impacted by the chemicals because of their developing digestive system. (Source)
While certain government agencies – notably, the Environmental Protection Agency – are tasked with protecting the public against toxic pesticides, the EPA’s power is limited, especially compared to similar agencies in other countries. Europe, for example, has much stricter pesticide regulations. One issue with the American system is that it doesn’t address the synergistic impact of common pesticides (a synergistic effect is when one pesticide compounds the impact of another and makes it more powerful or harmful).
So, how bad is it?
In 1995, the Environmental Working Group tested eight baby foods (including applesauce, garden vegetables/pea and carrot blend, green beans, peaches, pears, plums, squash, and sweet potatoes), manufactured by Gerber, Heinz, and Beech-Nut. At the time of the test, these producers accounted for 96% of all baby food sales. In the eight foods, the EWG found sixteen pesticides, “including three probable human carcinogens, five possible human carcinogens, eight neurotoxins, five pesticides that disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system, and five pesticides that are categorized as oral toxicity category one, the most toxic designation.” (Source)
In the same EWG study, they found that fruits tended to be more pesticide-rich. The baby food fruits contained more pesticides and pesticides at higher levels than the vegetables.
While many babies have been fed conventional baby food over the decades, the pesticides can have short- and long-term impacts on health, especially if the child’s system is already weak.
What’s the solution? Well, it certainly isn’t feeding our children less fruits and vegetables! Instead, we need to focus on making smarter purchases. Organic baby food is an easy option, of course, but it is pricier than conventional options. For less money, you can create your own organic baby food using organic fruits and vegetables purchased at a farmers’ market, through a CSA, or at the grocery store (here’s a good guide to making your own baby food). If you can’t afford to buy all organic food, avoid the so-called Dirty Dozen, wash all produce thoroughly, and remove the skin or outer leaves of conventional produce (for example, peeling apples or removing the outer lettuce leaves).