Consumers worldwide are increasingly aware of the products they consume daily – their nutrition and origin. We often hear that it’s best to rinse your veggies and fruits before eating because of the chemicals in our food. What does it mean, and how it affects our health?
The European Union argues that by 2030 there should be 50% fewer chemicals in our food. This positive news is unfortunately not yet reflected in reality. According to a recent report by the Pesticide Action Network, fresh food consumed in the EU is still largely contaminated with chemicals. What’s more, the report’s findings show that the percentage of fruits and vegetables contaminated with the most dangerous pesticides in 2019 increased by as much as 9% compared to 2015-2018.
The industrialization of crop production involved the use of new farming methods. To be able to produce mass quantities of food, farmers started to use plant protection products. These are substances or mixtures of substances designed to protect crops from diseases, pests, and parasites.
The use of plant protection products, such as pesticides, helps keep large, monoculture (single species) crops healthy. Unfortunately, they cause side effects in the form of environmental pollution and loss of biodiversity, as evidenced by the extinction of pollinating insects.
Food in stores is subject to strict regulations. However, there are often residues of pesticides on vegetables and fruits. That’s why it’s important to buy food from verified sources and to ensure its cleanliness. Fresh produce like kale, spinach, and strawberries is high on the list of most contaminated food.
Pesticides belong to plant protection products. The most common groups are fungicides, which protect plants against fungi, and herbicides, which control weeds. Thanks to them, crops stay in good condition. They also counteract diseases and pest infestations, allowing the harvest to be healthy and worm-free.
Farmers use pesticides to eliminate harmful organisms, unwanted pests, or weeds. That means they can also harm humans, animals, and the environment. Laws controlling the marketing and use of pesticides are designed to minimize such risks, and their sale and use are subject to strict controls. It is up to farmers, professional growers, or gardeners to ensure that the final product is safe and that pesticide residues are as low as possible.
Residues detected in food depend on the type of pesticide used and the length of its decomposition. Most fresh fruits and vegetables contain minimal amounts of it. In low concentrations, pesticides are not toxic to humans and can be washed off with water. However, it’s best to be careful when eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Pesticides have carcinogenic effects and are highly allergenic. They also can harm the nervous and circulatory systems.
Agricultural workers who use pesticides and communities near agricultural production sites are particularly at risk. They are the ones who are the most in contact with pests. In addition to negative effects on the circulatory and nervous systems, pesticides can cause reproductive problems, depression, or even lead to poisoning, which is fatal to humans.
Besides having a dire impact on human health, pesticides also harm the environment. The application of pesticides to crops effectively deals with pests but also affects the surrounding ecosystem. The most affected are bees. For the past decades, the number of bees worldwide has declined sharply. Indications are that pesticides used in agriculture are the main reason for this.
Nitrates are nitrogen compounds of plant origin. In our food, they can occur naturally and in the form of a food additive, which we recognize by the letter ‘E’ on the ingredients label.
They are not dangerous by themselves. Nonetheless, under the influence of bacterial flora in the digestive system, they can transform into toxic nitrosamines. Many of these compounds exhibit carcinogenic properties. They can also irritate the mucous membranes of the digestive system and lead to liver damage.
Vegetables that accumulate the highest amounts of nitrates include leafy plants such as lettuce, spinach, and cabbage. Nitrate content depends mainly on the number of mineral fertilizers used and the environmental conditions of crop production.
Metals enter our food through the air, water, and soil. The amount that ends up in the fresh produce depends on several factors. That includes the levels of these elements in the air, water, and soil and the type of crops grown. The degree of absorption of environmental elements and the agricultural processes is also crucial.
Some fruits and vegetables may contain heavy metals like cadmium, lead, or mercury. They get inside the crops through air and water. Another problem is the heavy metal presence in the soil, through which they penetrate the plant. In addition, using fertilizers rich in heavy metals amplifies their content in fruits and vegetables.
Heavy metals are potent neurotoxins that can interfere with brain development in children. While the levels of heavy metals in each food may be low, the cumulative effect of diet can be significant. If you consume these compounds in large quantities, it can lead to respiratory and immune system disorders and increase the cancer risk.
Presence of the above compounds and substances in food does not mean you should stop eating them. The benefits of eating fresh food still outweigh the potential side effects. However, it is worth knowing about the origin of the products and opting for vegetables and fruits that come from local and organic farms. Consumers can further reduce their intake of pesticide residues, nitrates, and heavy metals by peeling or washing fruits and vegetables. It also reduces other food-related risks, such as harmful bacteria.
To call the food organic, it’s necessary to meet specific requirements, such as only using organic fertilizers and forbidding chemical pesticides or other substances. Despite the many benefits of eating organic food, it has a few negative aspects. First, although these crops are more environmentally friendly, the number of establishments that are certified is limited. This means that organic food often has to travel a long way before it is on store shelves.
Technology developed at Hydropolis is addressing the challenge connected with the chemicals in fresh food. Vertical farming does not require pesticides and uses less fertilizer. Plants obtained through hydroponics often surpass the quality of conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.
Plants grown in our systems are subjected to detailed testing for chemical content. Yield samples are sent from B&R Hydropolis to a laboratory at the Agricultural University in Cracow. The average nitrate content of lettuce is only 800 – 1000 mg NO3/kg. Plants are grown soilless and under strictly controlled conditions. That means that the plants produced using our technology are free from contaminants from the air and soil.
Vertical farming with a controlled environment has a positive impact on the environment. Growing in an isolated space helps protect crops from external factors such as pests and extreme weather conditions. The lack of soil makes it easier to control the occurrence of diseases.
If you want to buy locally, check where there are farmers’ markets or small farms in your area. To learn more about the safety of the food you eat, check out the WHO website on the subject. On the other hand, if you are interested in starting your local vertical crop production, fill out the contact form, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.