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Look Closer: Systemic Pesticides and Where They're Hiding

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It's not always as easy to eat as healthily as we hope. (I say after guzzling half a bag of "natural" potato chips an hour before dinner. Sigh.) Even best efforts can be trumped by busy days that leave little room for anything but fast-ish meals at best, or just more coffee and something soft and doughy at worst. But when we do make the time—when we support local farmers markets, read ingredient labels, buy organic to avoid pesticides and GMOs, and cook everything from scratch—we hope we're circumnavigating things that are bad for us. Perhaps we're even neutralizing some of those indulgent "bad" meals that get the best of us from time to time.

Unless your food has been literally soaking in a tub of pesticides just before you eat, the risks of eating fruits and vegetables that have been exposed to pesticides does not outweigh the benefits of getting enough of these nutritious foods in your diet every day. Still, that doesn't mean you have to eat pesticides. But of course, chances are high that you already are. And systemic pesticides, which are absorbed by the plant into its tissues, rather than just remaining on the washable exterior, have drastically increased in our food supply in the last decade.

Systemic pesticides include imidacloprid, which is often applied to fruits and vegetables through the life of the plant—including up to harvest time. It's commonly applied to leafy green vegetables and tomatoes. It's been named as a possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder affecting bee hives around the world, and while no long term studies on its human health impact have been conducted, it's already believed to cause thyroid issues, spasms, breathing difficulties and other acute issues.

Clothianidin is a systemic pesticide often applied to potatoes (as if I didn't already regret that salty half-a-bag inhale enough). It too has been connected to the unprecedented bee die-offs. In mammals, it's been connected to reproductive issues and developmental effects, but few studies have been done on its impact to humans.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Other systemic pesticides include thiamethoxam, which is widely applied to soil where fruit and vegetables are planted and dinotefuran, which is often applied to soil and sprayed directly on leafy green, potatoes and crops including cucumbers.

According to Mother Earth News, studies conducted by the USDA between 1999 and 2007 found these systemic pesticides in large numbers of samples, " For example, 74 percent of conventionally grown fresh lettuce and 70 percent of broccoli samples showed imidacloprid residues. Clothianidin was found in potatoes, thiamethoxam showed up in strawberries and sweet peppers, and some collard green samples were laced with dinotefuran."

These pesticides can remain in the soil for more than a year after initial treatment, putting crops at high risk for ongoing contamination. "After one or two applications, plants grown in treated soil may produce toxic pollen, nectar and guttation droplets for more than two seasons."

While there are a considerable number of low-risk fruits and vegetables that can thrive with minimal pesticide applications (check out the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15"), avoiding pesticides is as easy as opting for organic whenever possible. Yes, farmers will grow more organic if we let them know we support that decision. But (unlike me—do as I write not as I regretfully guzzle!), it's important we stop beating ourselves up over what we eat. You're not a bad person for not buying the organic kale because conventional was $1 cheaper—or for skipping it altogether and eating something faster and easier. As a nation, our relationship with food is incredibly sensitive right now. It's evolving. Most of us are doing the best we can with what we have--just like the plants that grow under unthinkably harsh conditions and still manage to pull nutrients we need from the otherwise toxic soil.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Amy Loves Yah

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