STUDY: BABY FOOD HAS UNSAFE PESTICIDE LEVELS

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- About 77,000 infants each day ingest unsafe levels of insecticides, according to a new study calling for a complete ban of organophosphate pesticides in commercial baby food.According to the Environmental Working Group, an activist group here, commercial baby food is the primary source for most organophosphate insecticide residue ingested by children under a year old. The highest

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- About 77,000 infants each day ingest unsafe levels of insecticides, according to a new study calling for a complete ban of organophosphate pesticides in commercial baby food.

According to the Environmental Working Group, an activist group here, commercial baby food is the primary source for most organophosphate insecticide residue ingested by children under a year old. The highest levels of residue are found in baby food, apple juice, pears, applesauce and peaches, the report stated.

While the study does not list the unsafe levels for each pesticide, it bases its findings on the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which says manufacturers must now consider the cumulative effect of all residues found in food, instead of considering pesticides individually.

The EGW said it's this new approach, combined with existing government studies, that has resulted in its claim that in all, 1 million children under the age of 5 eat unsafe amounts of organophosphate insecticides daily, while 100,000 youngsters consume 10 times the unsafe levels. Apples, peaches, applesauce, popcorn, grapes, corn chips and apple juice cause the highest exposure rates, the report stated.

"This study shows that every day, hundreds of thousands of children receive unsafe exposures at precisely the age when they are most vulnerable to long- and short-term brain and nervous system damage," said Richard Wiles, the EWG's vice president for research and the lead author of the study, entitled "Overexposed: Organophosphate Insecticides in Children's Food."

The EWG's report prompted numerous food industry groups -- including the National Food Processors Association here; the Alliance for Food and Fiber, Los Angeles; and the Processed Apples Institute, Atlanta -- to go on the offensive.

"If EWG would for once do a thorough job in its so-called 'analysis,' it would be uncovered that the same FDA and USDA residue monitoring data shows nearly all fruits and vegetables were below the strict pesticide tolerance levels and do not pose a threat to public health," the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., said in a statement.

"That [EWG] conclusion is merely hypothetical," said Claire Regan, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America here. "It's an alarmist tactic that's being used to advance a political agenda."

Regan noted that the GMA supported and is currently working with the Environmental Protection Agency on implementing the Food Quality Protection Act, which includes updating regulations on pesticides by 1999. In addition, she said, "The industry over the years has done thousands and thousands of tests. Branded foods products are absolutely safe."

Wiles said, though, that his group wants more, including a ban on all organophosphate insecticides from baby food as well as major changes in pesticide regulations. The EWG also wants the EPA to ban from agricultural use the five organophospate insecticides posing the highest risk: methyl parathion, dimethoate, chlorpyrifos, pirimiphos methyl and azinphos methyl.

In addition, the EWG wants more farmers to consider using some of the newer and safer pesticides now available. "We're trying to move all farmers to a safer form of food production," Wiles said.

Wiles said the EWG doesn't want to scare parents away from baby food, but said they should use as much organic produce as possible, noting two organic baby food lines now produced by Gerber and Heinz.

He added, however, that commercial baby food still remains safer in terms of pesticide levels than homemade versions made from nonorganic produce.

"It's not that parents should avoid baby food, but that baby food shouldn't include any pesticides," he said. "This is an issue of the government helping a problem that you can't shop around."