food sovereignty

Balancing Exposure to Pesticides in Food

Speaker: Skye Vanderberg from TD Friends of the Environment FoundationWritten by: Sheena Jain & Esha Jain

            Not only is food necessary to sustain life and provide nutrition but it also gives people a sense of comfort, security and sovereignty.  Food security can be described as all people regardless of socioeconomic status, having access to food to meet their dietary needs. It is the ability to access appropriate food. Food sovereignty refers to people’s rights to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through economically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems. Although food is culturally, traditionally, environmentally, and physically important to us all, we must adapt and alter our food choices to ensure that we reduce our pesticide and toxin intake.

            Unlike organic food, conventional foods are grown using pesticides and fertilizers. Although organically grown foods are more expensive, the pesticides sprayed on food are harmful to our health and to the environment. The “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” were lists that were established to provide information on safe and harmful foods based on their pesticide exposure. Specifically, the “Clean 15” includes crops with a hard outer shell, making it more difficult for pesticides to penetrate through their skin. Therefore the “Clean 15” provides a list of conventionally grown foods that are safe to purchase. The “Dirty Dozen” on the other hand provides a list of crops that are exposed to larger quantities of pesticides, making them more harmful to our health. The “Dirty Dozen” provides a list, in which it is important to choose foods that are grown organically instead of conventionally. These lists provide consumers with the information needed to make healthy dietary choices when purchasing food. 

1)   Avocados 1)   Strawberries
2)   Sweet Corn 2)   Apples
3)   Pineapples 3)   Nectarines
4)   Cabbage 4)   Peaches
5)   Sweet Peas 5)   Celery
6)   Onions 6)   Grapes
7)   Asparagus 7)   Cherries
8)   Mangos 8)   Spinach
9)   Papayas 9)   Tomatoes
10) Kiwi 10) Sweet Bell Peppers
11) Eggplant 11) Cherry Tomatoes
12) Honeydew Melon 12) Cucumbers
13) Grapefruit
14) Cantaloupe NOTE: Green Beans & Kale are increasing in pesticide exposure
15) Cauliflower

            In addition to pesticide exposure many crops grown in North America are also genetically modified. Genetically modified crops grown on Canadian soil include: canola, corn, soy and sugar beet. Genetically modified foods that are imported from the United States consist of: papaya from Hawaii, milk products, yellow crookneck squash and cottonseed oil. Food items that do not contain any of these products or are labelled as “Non GMO” are not genetically modified.

            Many precautious can be taken to ensure increased food security and sovereignty. In addition to spending more money buying organically grown crops present on the dirty dozen list, you can also devote more time purchasing and preparing food. You can achieve this by turning food preparation into a hobby, date night or social event. Another tactic is to focus your funds on dietary staples. This can be done by going to inexpensive places to purchase dietary staples, stocking up during sales of non-perishables and freezing excess vegetables in order to maintain their nutritional content. Lastly gardening and growing your own foods, can create more optimal growth conditions to ensure ingestion of safer food products.




Short-term impacts - Headaches

- Nausea

Acute dangers - Nerve irritation/damage

- Skin irritation/damage

- Eye irritation/damage  

- Headaches

- Dizziness

- Nausea

- Fatigue

- Systemic Poisoning: is occasionally fatal

Cancers - Leukemia

- Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

- Brain Cancer

- Bone Cancer

- Breast Cancer

- Ovarian Cancer

- Prostate Cancer

- Testicular Cancer

- Liver Cancer

Endocrine disruption

(Some examples of endocrine disrupting chemicals in pesticides include:

DDT, Lindane, Atrazine, Carbaryl, Parathion)

- Reproductive harm

 → Infertility

- Harmful effects on embryonic development

 → Birth defects

 → Developmental defects in offspring

      (i.e. hormonal imbalance, incomplete sexual

      development,impaired brain development,

      behavioural disorders)

 → Growth issues in fetuses (i.e. low birth weight)

 → Fewer nerve cells in fetuses

Central Nervous System Effects - Memory loss

- Loss of coordination

- Reduced Visual ability

- Uncontrolled Mood

- Uncontrolled Behavioural issues

- 70% increased risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / Environmental Illness

(a medical condition in which the body is unable to tolerate relatively lower levels of chemical exposure)

- Dizziness

- Cardiovascular Problems

- Depression

- Muscle aches/pains

- Joint aches/pains


Compared to adults, children are particularly more susceptible to pesticide exposure. This is due to children having a greater skin surface area relative to their small body stature, making it easier for pesticides to penetrate through their skin.  Additionally children have the tendency to play outside in the dirt and put anything in their mouth, potentially causing direct contact with these chemicals. Children having increased exposure to pesticides along with having immature immune systems, make the impact of these toxins even greater.  

Since the human brain has not fully developed until the age of 12, pesticide exposure in children can cause negative effects on their central nervous system. Previous studies have shown that even lower concentrations of pesticides can impact a child’s brain chemistry, causing effects on behaviour, learning and attention. Pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. A study conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in February 2009 showed the development of brain cancer in children living in homes where pesticides are used.



Some alternatives methods to avoid the use of pesticides are:

Integrated Pest Management - Growing pest-resistant crops

- Killing plant-eating pests using predatory insects

- Using mechanical pest traps

- Plowing underneath harvested crops in order to  eliminate pest   

 nesting areas

- Pesticides are only used as a last resort

Crop Rotation & Other Growing Techniques - Crop Rotation: planting crops in different locations every season

  → This allows the replenishing of soil that previously had their

       nutrients removed by plants

- Intercropping: planting crops in close proximities

These techniques prevent the infestation of pests and insects by:

- Allowing soil to replenish themselves, naturally

- Breaking pest cycles

- Reducing the growth of weeds

- Allowing for plant diversity



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2)  Foundation, GRACE Communications. "Pesticides." GRACE Communications Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. (

3)  "Organophosphates." U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. (

4)  "Protecting Your Health from Pesticides." David Suzuki Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. (

5)  Thammishetti, Srikar. "Neurotoxins, Poisons, and Pesticides." N.p., 01 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2016. (

6) "The Problem with Pesticides." Communities In Action. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. (