The Daily Telegraph
Pesticides in food may damage the brain
CONSUMERS should consider going organic because pesticides on foods are far more dangerous than was thought, causing damage to the human brain, a study suggests.
The research, published by the European Parliament, warns of the “very high costs” of current levels of exposure to pesticides – especially for children and pregnant women.
It could result in new limits on pesticide levels or changes to the labelling of foodstuffs under EU laws which require the UK to review its policies by next year.
The study suggests that the damage caused by pesticides across the EU amounts to at least £125billion a year, based on the loss of lifetime income from such damage.
The report warns of increasing evidence that residues from insecticides are damaging the brain, and reducing the IQ of the population. And it raises concerns that the chemicals could also cause cancer and damage to the reproductive system. The research, commissioned by the European Parliament, is a review of scientific evidence about the impact of organic food on human health.
It says previous attempts to assess the impact of pesticides have disregarded too much of the research, raising concerns that regulation of insecticides has been inadequate.
The study was carried out by the parliament’s Scientific Foresight Unit, led by the Swedish University of
Agricultural Scientists. “At least 100 different pesticides are known to cause adverse neurological effects in adults, and all of these substances must therefore be suspected of being capable of damaging developing brains as well,” the report states.
“Such adverse effects are likely to be lasting and one main outcome is cognitive deficits, often expressed in terms of losses of IQ points.
“The combined evidence suggests that current exposures to certain pesticides in the EU may cost at least €125 billion per year, as calculated from the loss of lifetime income due to the lower IQS associated with prenatal exposure.”
It goes on to describe the calculation as “almost certainly an underestimate” as it does not consider the possible contribution made by pesticides to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
The researchers recommend limiting exposure to non-organic fruit and vegetables – and say particular care should be taken by pregnant women and children.
“The evidence reviewed in this report shows that a decreased exposure from the general population is desirable from a human health perspective, in light of the findings from epidemiological studies that indicate very high costs of current levels of pesticide exposures,” the report says.
Previous attempts to assess the risks have not taken proper account of epidemiological studies, which look at the health of whole populations, instead of limiting themselves to scientific trials, it suggests.
“Of major concern, these risk assessments disregard evidence from epidemiological studies that show negative effects of low-level exposure to organophosphate insecticides on children’s cognitive development,” it states.
And it raises concerns that risk assessment of pesticides is inadequate, failing to examine any increased risk of cancer, as well as impacts on the body’s hormones and nervous system.
Lead author, Assistant Professor Axel Mie, said: “Several practices in organic agriculture, in particular the low use of pesticides and antibiotics, offer benefits for human health.”
Under an EU directive, member states are required to publish a national plan to reduce risks from pesticides every five years, with the UK required to update its restrictions by 2018.
US studies have shown women’s exposure to pesticides during pregnancy were associated with negative impacts on their children’s IQ and neurobehavioural development.
Dr Chris Hartfield, of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Pesticides are among the most stringently regulated products in the world. This European Parliament report makes it quite clear that our understanding in these areas is limited, the evidence is not conclusive.”