Tag Archives: pesticides and cancer risk

Can eating fruits and vegetables be hazardous to your health?

Canada’s Globe and Mail published an article about a Canadian Cancer Society conference bringing leading scientists around the world to advise on whether restrictions should be imposed on spraying of pesticides on agricultural land.  The premise is that the large amounts of bug and weed sprays used on farmland may pose a heightened risk of several types of cancer for farmers, their rural neighbours and to all of us who eat foods containing pesticide residues.  Cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns and gardens is already restricted in some Canadian provinces and municipalities.  The article quotes Connie Moase, with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada’s watchdog: “In terms of any risk, health risk, Health Canada will only approve pesticides that do not pose a health risk, provided that the label directions are followed.”

I found the article especially interesting because it highlights so many dilemmas and barriers that get in the way of making a clearly informed, sustainable choice:

  • Are organically grown foods a better option than pesticide sprayed food that is cheaper to grow, with significantly higher yields, making it more readily available and affordable;
  • Should we now be eating less fruits and vegetables because of the potential health risks or do the benefits outweigh the pesticide exposure risk?
  • Given the apparent magnitude of the relative risks of pesticides used on lawns and gardens versus agricultural lands, why is the former banned and the latter not?  Is it simply a case of picking the low-hanging fruit versus tackling an area mired with controversy and inherently more serious trade-offs?
  • Do we accept the government’s assertions that approved pesticides are tested extensively and are not a health risk at the exposure levels when used as directed?
  • Or do we side with those groups who oppose the use of pesticides, who remind us that “these are strong poisons designed to kill if used as directed”.
  • Should we be concerned about what happens if directions for use on the labels are not followed exactly?
  • Can pesticide evaluations conducted on one chemical at a time account for unforeseen and untested real-life interactions between the variety of chemicals used on any given farm?
  • Should we trust the results of epidemiological studies linking pesticide use to higher incidence of cancers in farmers seriously, or can we safely discount them as “circumstantial evidence” that may actually be due to other risk factors?
  • Can we truly trust the results of testing on mice and rats, in experiments funded by the pesticide industry?

Etc. etc. etc.  You gotta read the article and form your own opinion— ‘cause my brain hurts.  It’s not easy being “sustainable”.