Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply
U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues of
a class of toxic chemicals known as persistent organic
pollutants--POPs--through their diets, according to report released by
Pesticide Action Network North America and Commonweal.
The report, "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S.
Food Supply," analyzes chemical residue data collected by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) and finds persistent chemical contaminants in all
food groups--from baked goods and meats to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Exposure to POPs has been linked to serious disease and developmental
disorders, including breast and other types of cancer, immune system
suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption
of hormonal systems. The report was released on the eve of the final
negotiations of the terms of an international treaty on POPs that could
institute a global ban on the production and use of 12 of the worst of these
chemicals, including DDT and dioxin.
"We hope that the U.S. negotiating team does not miss this
unprecedented opportunity to prevent further accumulation of these chemicals
in our food," said report author Kristin Schafer of Pesticide Action Network
North America. "We urge the Clinton Administration to dramatically
strengthen its negotiating positions in the interest of protecting the
health of the nation's consumers."
In the U.S., many of the chemicals responsible for contaminating the
food supply have been banned. However, other countries continue to
manufacture and use the chemicals, and their residues are carried across the
globe by air and water currents and precipitation. "U.S. consumers have a
right to know that chemicals banned in this country years ago continue to
contaminate their food," said Schafer. "They also have a right to know, on
the eve of the final negotiating session, that the fate of the POPs treaty
is largely in the hands of the Clinton Administration."
The report used an illustrative U.S. Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday
meal as well as sample daily menus in four geographic regions of the
country--the Southeast, the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West--to show
typical POPs consumption. The evaluation of POPs residue data yielded
startling findings, including:
** Virtually all food products are contaminated with POPs that have
been banned in the U.S. These include baked goods, fruit, vegetables, meat,
poultry and dairy products.
** It is not unusual for daily diets to contain food items
contaminated with three to seven POPs.
** A typical holiday dinner menu of 11 food items can deliver
thirty-eight "hits" of exposure to POPs, where a "hit" is one persistent
toxic chemical on one food item.
** The sample daily meal plans used in the study were each found to
deliver between 63 and 70 separate exposures to POPs per day.
The top 10 POPs-contaminated food items, in alphabetical order, are:
Butter, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, meatloaf, peanuts, popcorn, radishes,
spinach, summer squash and winter squash.
The two most pervasive POPs in food are dieldrin and DDE. Dieldrin is
a highly persistent and very toxic organochlorine pesticide banned in the
U.S. in the late 1970s. DDE is a breakdown product of DDT, which was banned
in 1972 in the U.S.
FDA's data showed that levels of contaminants in food are often at or
near the levels found by the federal government to cause public health
concern. Recent scientific studies have discovered that exposure to
miniscule levels of POPs at crucial times in fetal and infant development
can disrupt or damage human hormone, reproductive, neurological and immune
systems. The report highlights research demonstrating the connection between
exposure to POPs and disturbing health trends, including increased incidence
of breast cancer, learning disabilities and other neurodevelopmental
disorders, and reproductive problems.
In addition to food residue data from FDA, the report draws on
information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data
Program. Health-based POPs exposure thresholds established by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control's Agency
for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are also used in the analysis.
"Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply,"
is available at http://www.panna.org.