Almost 40 per cent of conventional baby food products examined in a new study were found to contain toxic pesticides, while none of the organic products sampled in the survey contained the chemicals. The research, conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) non-profit, looked at 73 products and found at least one pesticide in 22 of them. ALSO READ: Chemical exposure: Unmasking the risks to human health According to the researchers, a number of the products showed more than one pesticide, and the substances present a hazardous health risk to babies. It was also stressed that babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the health risks posed by pesticides in food – and food is the way most children will be exposed to pesticides. ALSO READ: We must go the organic way to solve the toxic pesticide challenge The pesticides detected included acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide that harms bees and humans, and captan, which is linked to cancer. Also, fludioxonil, a product commonly used on fruits, vegetables, and cereals, was found in five products and is thought to harm fetal development, cause changes in immune system cells, and disrupt hormones. Apple-based products were the most likely to contain high levels of pesticide residue, and blueberries, pears, and strawberries are also among the produce that commonly hold high levels of the chemicals. Claudine Umulisa, a registered nutritionist and dietician at Nutri-Sante Rwanda, a comprehensive nutrition cabinet centre in Kicukiro, defines pesticides as chemicals that are used in agriculture to protect crops against insects, rodents, weeds, and fungal diseases. She stressed that pesticides are potentially toxic to humans and can have both acute and chronic health effects, depending on the quantity and ways in which a person is exposed. “It’s likely that what your baby eats contains traces of pesticides. Sometimes, pesticides need to remain on crops or be re-applied after harvesting to protect food during storage, this means that traces of pesticides can be left in or outside of food,” Umulisa noted. She added that these traces are called pesticide residues, and are often found in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are an important part of babies’ meals when they start solids. Even though your baby is unlikely to be harmed by eating foods containing pesticide residues, children are more vulnerable to them than adults, Umulisa added. “There are several reasons for this, because a baby produces lower levels of the enzymes needed to detoxify pesticide chemicals from their body, compared to adults, and the baby’s developing brain and nervous system are more vulnerable to chemicals than an adult.” She explained that many people may deny feeding their babies fresh fruits and vegetables out of fear of pesticide exposure, however, it should be noted that the baby needs fruits and vegetables to gain essential vitamins and minerals – this is why it is important to include them in their meals. Umulisa stressed that you can reduce pesticide residues in your baby’s food if you wash and peel fruits and vegetables, and remove the outer leaves of vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage. She also urges washing under running water all fruits and vegetables that are not peeled. Since some pesticides are found in the food, washing may help to remove any toxic substance under the peel. The nutritionist recommends soaking in a bowl of water foods that are more difficult to wash, such as strawberries, grapes, broccoli, lettuce, and spinach, and rinsing them again after draining. She discourages giving babies bruised fruit as they are likely to harbor more pesticides. “Look for locally grown produce and try to eat food that is in season. Fruits and vegetables that are grown far away require after-harvest pesticides to help them survive the long trip.” Umulisa also advises choosing organic food as it generally contains lower levels of pesticides, adding that organic food is the best choice for babies though not everyone can afford it. She adds that organic food can still contain very small amounts of pesticides and other chemicals. In most cases, organic foods are produced without using pesticides. However, organic foods are not always free from pesticides. So buying organic food may not guarantee your baby won’t consume any pesticides, but it will reduce the amount they consume. The nutrition expert also emphasises that whether the food is organic or not, it still needs to be washed or peeled before being given to the baby.