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Systemic Pesticides: Chemicals You Can’t Wash Off - Printable Version

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Systemic Pesticides: Chemicals You Can’t Wash Off - bristopen - 07-30-2012

Washing or peeling fruits and vegetables before you eat them won’t protect you from systemic pesticides.
By Barbara Pleasant
October/November 2010

In conventional food production systems, not all pesticides remain on a plant’s exterior. Systemic pesticides are chemicals that are actually absorbed by a plant when applied to seeds, soil or leaves. The chemicals then circulate through the plant’s tissues, killing the insects that feed on them. Use of these pesticides on food crops began in 1998, and has steadily increased during the past 10 years. Unlike with traditional insecticides, you can’t wash or peel off systemic pesticide residues because they’re in the plant’s tissues, not on their exteriors.

The four main systemics used on food crops (listed below) are members of the nitroguanidine/ neonicotinoid group of chemicals, which has been implicated in the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has killed millions of bees. (See our article Colony Collapse: Are Potent Pesticides Killing Honeybees?.)

Imidacloprid can be applied to many vegetables (including tomatoes and leafy greens) right up to the day they’re harvested.

Thiamethoxam was first approved as a seed treatment for corn in 2002, and thiamethoxam products that are applied to the soil have since been approved for use on most vegetable and fruit crops. See a photo of seed corn treated with this chemical.

Clothianidin is used as a seed treatment on canola, cereals, corn and sugar beets, and as a soil treatment for potatoes.

Dinotefuran can be applied to soil or sprayed on leafy greens, potatoes and cucumber family crops.

When the Pesticide Action Network reviewed the results of pesticide residue tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1999 to 2007, numerous samples contained residues of these systemic pesticides. 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.