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Cornell Response to NAS Report

Cornell Response to NAS Report

Cornell expert says NAS report on pesticides in children's diets should prompt more research into what children eat

ITHACA, N.Y. -- A Cornell University expert on diet and cancer says that "remarkably limited" knowledge about what children eat makes it difficult to know how much pesticides they consume.

Commenting on a report released today (June 29) from the National Academy of Sciences called "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, Joseph Hotchkiss, Cornell professor of food science, said there is nevertheless "no credible evidence that pesticide residues in the diets of children are responsible for disease, either in childhood or later in life."

Hotchkiss, who served as a reviewer for the report, criticized calls for more sampling of produce to test for pesticide residues. Extensive sampling already is carried out at the national and state levels as well as in the food processing industry, he pointed out, and less than 1 percent of samples are found to be in violation of legal limits on residues. More sampling would be a waste of time, he said . Instead, Hotchkiss recommends that the federal government and scientists improve their knowledge of children's diets and devote more time to examining residues in products as they are consumed ­ not just in the fields. Children eat large amounts of processed fruits and vegetables.

Canning, freezing, drying and home preparation most often decrease the pesticide content of foods, he said. In a limited number of cases, processing can increase pesticide content, particularly in the separation of crude oils or in dehydration. Subsequent processing, however, can remove these residues. Nonetheless, "we need to know more about what happens to pesticides in foods as they are altered," he said.

"We focus almost all our attention on enforcing tolerances," he added. "But we also need to know, for instance, how much of apple products a 3-year-old eats."

Hotchkiss predicts that the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency will act on the report by increasing the amount of toxicology data on young animals required for a pesticide to be registered and improving its tolerance assessment system, which provides information about how much people eat.

"These changes, though, will make very little difference in the health of children's foods since pesticide residues are simply not a significant factor," he said.

"When the known tobacco-related cancers are excluded, our overall cancer incidence or mortality is not increasing significantly," Hotchkiss wrote in a 1992 article published in "Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition." "This is despite that fact that pesticide use went from essentially zero in the late 1940s to 1.04 billion pounds of active ingredients in 1987."

Hotchkiss advocates that pesticide use be reduced through methods such as integrated pest management, but not because he believes a reduction will contribute to human health:

Far more detrimental to the health of youngsters, in his opinion, is improper nutrition. "All you need to do is to visit a high school cafeteria and watch the high-fat foods being gobbled down to be convinced that foods are used improperly," he said.