Thursday, May 11, 2006
7 News Investigations: Poisoned Produce
It is the job of the federal government to protect us from dangerous chemicals on food imported into the U.S. But a Seven News investigation makes it clear - that doesn't always happen. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero with this special assignment report - Poisoned Produce.
WSVN--Kiersten Kustin is the mother of two toddlers.
Most evenings you'll find her in her Ft. Lauderdale kitchen preparing what she believes will be a healthy meal for her family.
Kiersten Kustin: "I can't say I do fruits and vegetables at every meal, but I give it a try."
A favorite choice for the little ones - snow peas.
Kiersten Kustin: "Things like snow peas and carrots are good because they're crunchie. And they're easy to pick up and they're fun to kind of toss around."
But there's nothing fun about what Seven News found lurking in snow peas being sold in South Florida.
We bought snow peas from Guatemala in Miami Dade and Broward counties and sent them to anresco laboratory in san francisco to test for pesticide residue.
The results it found give cause for concern.
David Eisenberg: "It should not have ended up on the dinner plates of people in South Florida because four of the five samples you submitted violated FDA standards."
David Eisenberg says his lab found the pesticides chlorothalonil or methamidophos or both in samples from all but one store.
These chemicals are not supposed to use on snow peas at all.
One sample was even 250 times the legal limit to be sold in the u-s.
David Eisenberg: "I can't remember us ever having a sample that high in our laboratory."
Pesticides are used to prevent pests and fungus from attacking produce.
Too many can have a long term effect on our health including possibly causing cancer.
The pesticide action network - a watchdog group - describes the chemicals we found as - "...Pretty dangerous actors."
Dr. Susan Kegley: "Cholorthalonil is a carcinogen - labeled as a probable carcinogen by the EPA. Methamidophos is a neurotoxin. And these chemicals that are neurotoxic are particularly bad for children whose nervous systems are just developing and growing."
It's the job of the food and drug administration to monitor products at ports of entry throughout the country.
Miami is a major port of entry for snow peas.
Here in Florida - Seven News has learned the number of food shipments currently being checked is down 30 per cent.
Carmel Cafiero: "That information came from a telephone interview with the district director of the Florida office. She's in Maitland and we would have glady gone there to talk with her about our findings. But the FDA said our only option was one twenty minute conversation on the phone."
Carmel Cafiero: "Are you troubled by our findings?"
Emma Singleton: "I am concerned."
Emma Singleton says importers of Guatemalan snow peas can get a pass from inspections if five samples in a row do not contain prohibited pesticides.
After that - no one checks ever again.
Emma Singleton: "If they did get in, the only thing I can say is we'll work to prevent these type of things in the future."
Our conversation was being monitored by an FDA public information officer who was in Maryland.
Earlier he had turned down our request to see shipments being checked by the FDA.
When I asked Singleton to reconsider - he jumped in on the conversation.
Emma Singleton: "FDA Public Information Officer: Well you're not getting any video!"
That was pretty clear.
We did check public records for the number of snow pea shipments from Guatemala that were stopped in Florida... We found one so far this year for pesticides.
David Eisenberg: "And if no one ever looks - there's no problem. I would imagine that the 5 samples your TV station took represents about 6 months effort on the part of the FDA."
Kearsten Kustin meanwhile - was shocked when we told her what was in our samples.
Kiersten Kustin: "That's frightening. I'm a little angry."
Worse yet - sometimes washing is of no help because the pesticides are absorbed by the roots and are throughout the plants.
Kiersten Kustin: "So it's kind of like smoking my snow peas? That's no good!"
The only solution to avoid this poisoned produce - buy organic.