A new analysis from the Environmental Working Group finds residues of at least one of three EU-banned neonicotinoid pesticides – imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam -- on more than half of samples of potatoes, lettuce, and spinach tested between 2015-2016. More than a quarter of cherries, watermelons, and strawberries also tested positive for the chemicals.
The pesticides have been banned in the EU for their close association with struggling bee colonies after EU researchers pointed to the damage caused by the chemicals. The neonics class of chemicals is commonly used as seed coating treatments on corn and soy, but the chemicals are also regularly sprayed on fruit and vegetable crops.
"The growing use of neonics is a serious concern because healthy bees and other insects are necessary for pollinating many crops," EWG said in a statement. "Some studies on human health also suggest that exposure to neonics may be harmful to developing fetuses and children."
EWG says it isn't just bees and other pollinators at risk; in 2017, a report released by George Washington University and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that human neonicotinoid exposure is linked to fetal development issues, and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders.
According to the group, which publishes an annual "Dirty Dozen" list of fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide loads, U.S. government data shows apples, pears, peaches, cherries and spinach are the produce items that most frequently contain pesticides banned or restricted in Europe. "Thirty percent to 80 percent of U.S. samples of those foods contain at least one pesticide banned or restricted in Europe," the group notes.
Despite EU regulators finding conclusive evidence to the dangers of neonics and other pesticides, the U.S. has been slow to reassess its safety even though bee colony populations continue to decline. Bees pollinate about one-third of all food crops.
"There is a gap between EU and U.S. pesticide use because pesticide regulation in the U.S. favors the interests of manufacturers over public health," EWG says. "The European Union sets a higher bar for pesticide safety, and a more precautionary registration system keeps some of the most harmful pesticides off the market. Research by the Center for International Environmental Law estimates that at least 80 pesticides are banned or restricted in Europe, but are still allowed on American crops."
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