HEALTH & WELLNESS | Choose Organic for Kids and Lower their Exposure to Pesticides

Grade 3 student Max Masun digs up some potatoes at Lac La Hache Elementary’s school garden. Photo: Cynthia Neufeld

Grade 3 student Max Masun digs up some potatoes at Lac La Hache Elementary’s school garden. Photo: Cynthia Neufeld

By Erin Hitchcock-

As a mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old, with another child on the way this spring, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the number of pesticides to which our kids are exposed.

Parenting can be hard work and doing things the right way all of the time can feel impossible, especially when a lack of time and energy get in the way. But I feel it’s critical we at least prevent our kids from consuming chemicals that could have negative, life-altering effects.

All too often I have seen families guzzling litres of soda to wash down their fast-food combos. I have seen children as young as one chowing down fast food fries or drinking brightly coloured slushies. The idea of providing my children with these so-called foods is so far from what I believe in, I can’t help but plead with parents, at least through this forum, to go organic. Admittedly, not everything my son eats is organic, but I am increasingly trying harder to ensure it is.

It’s not just the sugar or fat content or even the lack of nutrients that concerns me; it’s the pesticides, the chemicals that linger in our bodies, and may cause all sorts of diseases and disorders, from autism to cancer.

Glyphosate, a chemical the World Health Organization announced last year as being a “probable carcinogen,” is used as herbicide throughout the world on crops such as soy, corn, wheat, and others, many of which have been genetically modified to resist this chemical created to kill surrounding plants.

While we parents can do our best at home to ensure our children eat well, it can be more difficult keeping them away from non-organic foods when away from home, including at school. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Depending on which school your child attends, various meal programs that promote organic foods are available in School District 27 and may at least help reduce pesticide exposure.

Sandra Davis, health promoting school co-ordinator for the district, said through the Farm2School program in which Horsefly Elementary Junior Secondary, Mountview Elementary, and 108 Mile Elementary participate, the local farming community is supported while students have better access to fresh, local, and nutritious food. Though organic food is not mandatory, it is encouraged, she noted.

Mountview principal Rick Miller said the main goal of the program is to procure foods from as close to home as possible. Though some of the food does comes from sources with unknown food policies (and therefore may contain pesticides), some of it is organic or close to it, he said.

Some schools, such as Lac La Hache Elementary, have school gardens. Principal Cynthia Neufeld said veggies from the Lac La Hache garden are used for a community harvest dinner, weekly soup lunch, and a Christmas dinner. She said though the vegetables aren’t certified organic, they are not sprayed with pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

It’s great to see these initiatives undertaken in the district, and I think all of us need to continue supporting these programs so they can grow stronger and include more schools and more organic food opportunities for our children. With enough support, I think we could eventually eliminate all foods with pesticides in our schools.

Grade 3 student Jack Copley shows off one of the carrots he picked at Lac La Hache Elementary’s school garden. Photo: Cynthia Neufeld

Grade 3 student Jack Copley shows off one of the carrots he picked at Lac La Hache Elementary’s school garden. Photo: Cynthia Neufeld

On another bright note, neither the district nor the City of Williams Lake use herbicides in parks. However, Roundup is used occasionally in “low-traffic areas” such as flower beds in the city, according to Gary Muraca, director of municipal services for the City of Williams Lake.

Its use, no matter how minute, still concerns me, especially since this chemical likely makes its way into water systems and since studies have suggested glyphosate could be harmful to pollinators, such as bees (see a future column for more on this).

Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a senior scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), believes there is a direct link between glyphosate, contained in Monsanto’s Roundup, and an exponential increase in autism.

In various presentations, she says when glyphosate was introduced into the food chain in 1975 one in 5,000 (.02 per cent) children had autism. By 2032, she expects 50 per cent of children to be diagnosed with it.

To learn more about Seneff’s research, visit http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/, which includes video links to some of her presentations.

According to a December 3, 2015 LA Times article about a study published recently in Thorax, an international peer-reviewed journal dealing with respiratory issues and medicine, chronic exposure to pesticides can be as harmful to children as second-hand cigarette smoke.

The study, according to the article, highlights how the lung function of farmworker children in the Salinas Valley decreased due to chronic pesticide exposure.

Researchers found that by the time the children were seven, there was a significant correlation between lower exhalation rates (about eight per cent less air) and higher levels of organophosphates—chemicals contained in many insecticides, herbicides, and nerve agents.

Pregnant and nursing mothers should also take measures to ensure their babies aren’t exposed. If pregnant or nursing, avoid foods that may have pesticides. As noted in my last column, Moms Across America and Sustainable Pulse recently released results of a study looking at glyphosate levels in breastmilk in American women.

The results showed high levels in 30 per cent of the samples tested, suggesting glyphosate levels build up in one’s body over time. Infant formulas aren’t necessarily chemical free either—according to the Environmental Working Group, most contain glyphosate as well.

On May 21, I hope to see you at the March for Food Justice in Williams Lake to raise awareness about the issues and to put pressure on our governments, grocery stores, restaurants, and other companies and retailers to take a stand with us in order to protect our children and their future. Details of this event will be released at a later date. Visit and like http://www.facebook.com/marchagainstmonsantowilliamsake for updates.

And, at the very least, on Family Day this February take some time to consider and evaluate the food choices you are making for your family and identify areas that could be improved so you can work toward choosing and preparing only organic meals whether they are enjoyed at home, in the car, at school, or at the park.

Erin Hitchcock is a stay-at-home mom, journalist, anti-GMO advocate, and local organizer for March Against Monsanto/March for Food Justice. If you have any comments, column suggestions, or questions for her email erinhitchcock.cariboo@gmail.com

 

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