Food Study Shows Need For Pesticide Reform

Powerful new study from Friends of The Earth detects high-levels of pesticides in our food, an increasing threat to food security in Oregon.

New National Food Study Finds Dangerous Pesticides in Common Family Foods
Oregon has the second highest concentration of brain-damaging pesticides in apples* (PDF)

Decades of evidence have proven that exposure to pesticides can result in adverse health effect ranging from nerve damage to birth defects to cancer. This national food study was carried out to gain an understanding of the ways that people may be at risk from receiving continuing, low-level exposures to dangerous toxic chemicals. Studying the levels of pesticide in popular food is especially critical for the health of children who are the most vulnerable to lasting harm to their health from pesticide ingestion through food, inhalation, or dermal contact.

The national food study is important because the US government does not always test for the concentration of dangerous pesticides in the food we eat. Nor has the EPA set human safety levels for all common pesticides. This lack of good science puts us all at risk for concentrations of pesticide residues building up in our bodies from eating what should be nourishing foods.

A summary of the results of the food study is below, followed by a description of steps in the 2019 Oregon Legislature to protect people, food and the environment from the worst of these pesticides.

Friends of The Earth, in conjunction with several other organizations around the country, tested for three types of pesticides—organophosphate and neonicotinoid insecticides and the herbicide glyphosate. Foods sold in Oregon were evaluated as part of the research project.

  • Organophosphates were found in 100% of applesauce samples, 61% of whole apples and 25% of spinach samples.
  • Neonicotinoids were found in 80% of spinach and 73% of applesauce.
  • Glyphosate was found on 100% of oat cereal samples and 100% of pinto bean samples tested. In the absence of federal testing for glyphosate residues on food, this study confirms recent data for oat products released by other organizations.[3,4] Levels in oat cereal ranged from 5 to 931 ppb with an average level of 360 ppb. The average level of glyphosate found in cereal samples we tested was more than twice the “allowable” level set by the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) proposed health benchmark for lifetime cancer risk for children.[5] The highest residue level from a cereal sample (931 ppb, purchased from Walmart) was nearly six times greater than EWG’s benchmark.
  • This report also reveals new data showing significant glyphosate contamination of dry beans. Levels ranged from 7 to 1,850 ppb for pinto beans with an average of 509 ppb. The average level was more than 4.5 times the EWG benchmark, and the highest residue level (1,849 ppb, purchased from Albertsons) was nearly 17 times greater.
  • These high levels of glyphosate residues are likely a result of using the herbicide just before harvest to dry out crops including wheat, barley, oats and beans so that they can be harvested sooner.[6]

Oregon Results

Krystal Abrams, Social Media and Pollinator Projects Manager for Beyond Toxics collects food samples for the FOE study.

In Oregon, foods collected by Beyond Toxics in grocery outlets, yielded similar results. The average level of glyphosate found in cereal samples gathered in Oregon (500 parts per billion) was more than 3 times the “allowable” level set by scientists at Environmental Working Group for lifetime cancer risk for children. The average level of glyphosate found in pinto beans (507 ppb) was more than 4.5 times the benchmark. Out of 15 states measured in the study, Oregon had the 2nd highest concentrations of organophosphates in apples. These levels are among the top 3 highest levels out of the 11th states tested. This is alarming considering there is no safe level of organophosphates exposure.

See the research references for the FOE report ** (below)

Action to Reduce Pesticide Exposure and Build Science Datasets.

The National Food Study shows that pesticides are getting into our bodies through common food products. Beyond Toxics invites you to join the campaign to reduce the threat of pesticide harm. The 2019 Oregon Legislative session provides a unique opportunity to address the use of neonicotinoids (neonics) and chlorpyrifos. We are developing a suite of legislative efforts to modernize Oregon’s pesticide regulations to reflect up-to-date human health science and technology.

A growing body of scientific evidence shows several commonly used pesticides pose a dire threat to human health, water quality, aquatic species, pollinators, and the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Oregonians deserve greater access to information regarding the widespread use of pesticides and their prevalence in our environment. While ensuring state agencies are upholding their responsibility to protect the public, we must pursue common sense solutions that also protect responsible businesses, and workers.

Essential pesticide protection opportunities in 2019 are:

  • Working for a statewide ban on chlorpyrifos, a insecticide that was originally slated to be banned by the US EPA before the current administration reversed course. Scientific studies have linked chlorpyrifos to brain damage in children, autism, cancer, reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention deficit disorders and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Asking legislators for the third time to add neonicotinoids to the statewide list of Restricted Use Pesticides (i.e. remove them from consumer store shelves). Neonics are highly toxic to insects, pollinators, fish, birds, and freshwater invertebrates.
  • Modernizing and funding Oregon’s Pesticide Use Reporting System (PURS).

This year, the Oregon Conservation Network has recognized the urgency of reducing the risk of harm from pesticides, for humans, wildlife and the environment and the convenience of using modern technology to report and track pesticide use. By a unanimous vote, the Oregon Conservation Network adopted Pesticides Policy Reform as one of their top five 2019 Priorities for a Healthy Oregon.

Bill Numbers: TBD, stay tuned for updates!

Summary: Several commonly used pesticides can negatively impact human health, water quality, aquatic species, pollinators, and the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Legislative priorities aims for:

  1. A statewide ban on chlorpyrifos;
  2. Adding neonicotinoids to the statewide list of Restricted Use Pesticides (i.e. remove them from consumer store shelves);
  3. Reinstating and funding the Oregon Pesticide Use Reporting System, a historic landmark law that is slated to “sunset” (taken out of statute). This program requires pesticide uses are reported to a statewide system to understand and track their environmental fate.

Chlorpyrifos is a widely used organophosphate insecticide tied to developmental disorders in children and is harmful for people of any age to touch, inhale or eat. It acts as a nerve agent, attacking chemical pathways in the body, creating a breakdown in the ability of nerves to communicate and function. Scientific studies have linked chlorpyrifos to brain damage in children, autism, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and a host of other negative human health impacts such as reduced IQ, loss of working memory, attention deficit disorders and delayed motor development. In the past decade, several notable OPs have been discontinued for use, including parathion, which is no longer registered for any use, and chlorpyrifos, which is no longer registered for home use.

Agricultural use of chlorpyrifos is associated with immediate and long-term adverse health impacts for those who are exposed, including farmers, farmworkers and nearby schools and homes. Oregon agriculture is the biggest employment sector of immigrant communities, thus exposing many workers, families, and children to cancer-causing agents. Chlorpyrifos are particularly dangerous for pregnant women because of their toxicity to the developing infant. Chlorpyrifos is also known to be extremely harmful to wildlife. Studies indicate chlorpyrifos is likely to harm approximately 1,800 plants and animals, many of them critically endangered.

Hawaii banned chlorpyrifos in 2018 due to its ability to cause brain damage and birth defects in children. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended a ban on all food tolerances of this pesticide, but under EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt the agency reversed the decision. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled the EPA must ban the pesticide, but the Trump Administration has not acted, necessitating action at the state level. Seven state attorneys general have filed a lawsuit against the EPA over their stalled decision. Oregon should join other states in taking the strongest possible action to protect farm workers, students, children, the safety of our food and our environment with a statewide ban of chlorpyrifos.

Neonicotinoids (“neonics”) are a class of synthetically created neurotoxic pesticides widely used for domestic pest control and on a broad range of food, energy, and ornamental crops. They are highly toxic to insects, pollinators, fish, birds and freshwater invertebrates as well as highly persistent in soils, wildflowers, streams and lakes. After 242 scientists from around the world cited an “immediate need for national and international agreements to greatly restrict their use,” the European Union recently banned the outdoor use of three neonics. Canada is proposing a ban on neonics and in the U.S., the states of Connecticut and Maryland have banned consumer use. In addition, over 140 garden centers have banned plants or products with neonics, including these national chains: Home Depot, Lowe’s, True Value, Costco, Walmart, Kroger and Whole Foods. Over 100 cities have banned neonic use as well. Furthermore, the EPA placed a moratorium on all new or expanded uses of neonics. Oregon currently requires certification and training in order to buy, sell, or disseminate over 500 restricted use pesticides, yet none of the neonics are included on the list. Adding neonics to Oregon’s list of restricted pesticides appropriately requires anyone applying a product in this class of highly systemic and persistent pesticides receive training and become licensed as a pesticide applicator.

Pesticide Use Reporting
The 1999 Oregon Legislature recognized the benefits of Oregon having a comprehensive, reliable and cost effective system for collecting and organizing information on all categories of pesticide use within the state. With bipartisan cooperation and support from a number of interests, including agricultural, health and environmental groups, lawmakers enacted House Bill 3602 (Chapter 1059, Oregon Laws 1999) requiring all pesticide users to report their pesticide use to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

According to a 2000 Analytic Review published by the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, “This legislation can be considered landmark, not just for Oregon, but for the entire country. Information from all types of pesticide users, including agricultural and forest producers, government agencies, utilities and industrial users, commercial application companies, and firms making applications in urban settings, is to be collected, evaluated, summarized and reported. However, under intense pressure from chemical lobbying interests, the Pesticide Use Reporting System was put on the backburner after only two years of data collection (2007 & 2008), was defunded and required to “sunset” in 2019.

It’s well past time to save Oregon’s landmark Pesticide Use Reporting Program. A legislature-appointed Task Force on Pollinator Protection created in 2013 recommended reactivating the Pesticide Use Reporting Program in their final report to lawmakers and regulators. During the ensuing five years, no action was taken, putting the program on a path to quietly sunset in 2019. In the interest of science, health and environmental protections, this year is Oregon’s last opportunity to reinstate funding, use modern data collection technology, make the system user-friendly and create a comprehensive and accurate database.

See the research references for our legislative efforts *** (below)

*The FOE report was written by Kendra Klein, Ph.D., senior staff scientist, Friends of the Earth U.S. | Collaboration:  This project is a collaborative effort of environmental, farmer, farmworker, consumer and beekeeper groups across the country. The following organizations and individuals submitted samples: Beyond Toxics, CATA-El Comite de Apoyo a Los Trabajadores Agricolas, Ecology Center, Environment Texas, Emory University Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Friends of the Earth, Grassroots Environmental Education, Maryland Pesticide Education Network, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, People and Pollinators Action Network, Pesticide Action Network North America, Toxics Action Center and Toxic Free North Carolina.

** Research references for the FOE study

[1] U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Fiscal Year 2015 Report. Washington D.C. Online.
[2] Ibid
[3] World Health Organization. (2016, August 11). International Agency for Research on Cancer. Monograph 112-10: Glyphosate. Retrieved from
[4] California Office of Health Hazard Assessment. (2018). Chemicals Listed Under Proposition 65: Glyphosate. Retrieved from
[5] Gasnier, C. et al. (2009). Glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and endocrine disruptors in human cell lines. Toxicology. 262(3), pp.184-191.
[6] Parvez, S., Gerona, R.R, et al. (2018). Glyphosate exposure in pregnancy and shortened gestational length: A prospective Indiana birth cohort study. Environmental Health. 17(1), p.23.
[7] Lanphear, B.P., 2017. Low-level toxicity of chemicals: No acceptable levels?. PLoS Biology, 15(12), p.e2003066.[1]
[8] Kepner, John. 2004. Synergy: The Big Unknowns of Pesticide Exposure. Pesticides and You. Vol. 23(4).

[9] Rizati, V, et al (2016)“Effects of pesticide mixtures in human and animal models: An update of the recent literature. Chemico-biological interactions, ISSN: 1872-7786, Vol: 254, Page: 231-46
[10] Payne-Sturges, D., Cohen, J., Castorina, R., Axelrad, D. A., & Woodruff, T. J. (2009). Evaluating cumulative organophosphorus pesticide body burden of children: a national case study. Environmental science & technology, 43(20), 7924-7930.

*** Research references for our legislative efforts

[1] The Xerces Society “Scientists Urge Action to Protect Waters from Neonicotinoid Insecticides”. 3/13/18.
[2] Lipton, Eric. New York Times. “Court Orders E.P.A. to Ban Chlorypyrifos, Pesticide Tied to Children’s Health Problems”. 8/9/18.
[3] Goulson, Dave and 232 Signatories. Science Magazine. “Neonicitinoids: An open letter to policy makers and regulators”. 6/1/18
[4] Butler, Declan. Nature. “Scientists hail European ban on bee-harming pesticides”. 4/27/18.
[5] National Pesticide Information Center. Chlorpyrifos General Fact Sheet. 4/10.
[6] Cuthbert, Lori. National Geographic. “EPA Must Ban Dangerous Insecticide”. 8/10/1018
[7] Natural Resources Defense Council. “Hawaii Bans Use of Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos” 6/13/18.
[8] Boyd-Barrett, Claudia. California Health Report. “As State Weighs Pesticide Restrictions, California’s Farmworkers and Students Continue to be Exposed” 9/15/18.

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