Release of the National Academy of Sciences report "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children" has caused another food safety stir.
Many parents are upset because the report concluded that there are serious deficiencies that need to be corrected in the way the federal government evaluates children's risks due to pesticide exposure.
But the committee also concluded children should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get the vitamins and minerals they need, despite the need to improve the rules and regulations on pesticide use.
This apparent conflict arises from the two main areas.
First, the one piece of science-against-cancer information that everyone agrees on is that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have less cancer than people who eat less.
Whether this is because of specific vitamins (C, E and beta carotene) and minerals (calcium and selenium), or the more than 35 newly emergent phytochemicals (sulforaphane, limonene, etc.) found naturally in food, or the fiber content, or some other yet-to-be-uncovered agent, has not been nailed down.
The second problem is the Environmental Protection Agency has been doing some monitoring related to children and pesticides and published a report in the March 1993 Journal of Association of Official Analytical Chemists, International.
This report focused on infant foods as well as adult foods that may be eaten by infants and children.
Here are its conclusions:
* In regulatory monitoring, fewer than 50 of the 10,000 samples had residues above acceptable limits.
* Under both incidence-level monitoring and the Total Diet Study, the levels of pesticide residues found were well below limits set by EPA.
So we have some assurance of safety.
But what the science academy recommends is more individualized methods of calculating statistical data, more sensitive toxicity studies done on immature animals, more stringent "uncertainty factors" and more specific food consumption data so standards better reflect infant's and children's response to pesticide exposure.
These are good recommendations, and the EPA should get on with it.
But it took the academy five years to complete this just-published study. How long do you think it will be until all those recommendations are in effect?
In the meantime, kids have to eat their fruits and vegetables.
The Food and Nutrition Science Alliance, a group composed of the American Dietetic Association, the Institute of Food Technologists, the American Institute of Nutrition and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, suggests two simple steps to increase the safety of fresh produce:
* Wash fruits and vegetables in water, no soap, and scrub with a brush, or peel.
* Eat a variety of foods, because pesticides vary from crop to crop, and variety helps minimize exposure to any one pesticide.
An environmental activist friend also suggests sticking to U.S. grown fruits and vegetables and asking your grocer for pesticide-free produce. There is not enough of that to go around yet, but the market will eventually offer what we will buy.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.