Top | Sift

Eating pesticides

(article, Culinate staff)

As Tom Philpott recently noted in his blog on Mother Jones, most folks (Philpott included) have always associated the rise in diabetes with the growth of sugar consumption in recent decades. But a new study suggests that eating pesticides may also trigger the development of the disease. 

The problem isn't so much with, say, the pesticides sprayed on peach blossoms this past spring. It comes from pesticides used decades ago — chiefly polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, potent chemicals that persist in the environment for decades and gradually work their way up the food chain, concentrating in the fats of animals and fish that eat them, then building up in the systems of humans who, in turn, have eaten those animals and fish.

Factory-farmed animals, of course, wind up with higher concentrations of chemicals in their bodies, due in part to such practices as feeding "poultry litter" (chicken feathers, waste, and other presumably inedible leftovers) to beef cows. Farmed salmon, too, turn out to have pesticide concentrations seven times higher than those of wild salmon.

Philpott also points out that polybrominated flame retardants (PBDEs), a newer chemical currently being phased out, are turning up in our meats. (Yes, this is the same stuff that got so much press a few years back when it was detected in breast milk.) The bigger problem? Even if you don't eat meat, you can still absorb PBDEs simply by breathing air near equipment, textiles, and furniture that feature them.