Cilantro Found Tainted with Pesticides

The popular herb, cilantro, which has recently been making news for a number of recalls over Salmonella contamination, has been found to be tainted with <"">pesticides. Cilantro is an ingredient in many Latin foods, such as guacamole and salsa, notes the LA Times. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) testing revealed a whopping—and surprising to the federal regulators—34 unapproved pesticides on samples of cilantro.

The testing is part of the USDA’s 20-year rotating produce testing, said the LA Times, which noted that cilantro was the first fresh herb that the agency tested. “We are not really sure why the cilantro came up with these residues,” said Chris Pappas, a chemist who oversees the USDA pesticide testing, quoted the LA Times. The researchers believe that produce growers likely confused cilantro and flat-leaf parsley guidelines; parsley is approved for more pesticides than cilantro, said the LA Times.

Most of the 184 cilantro samples—94 percent—that were tested in 2009 were positive for at least one pesticide, said the LA Times, citing the yearly Pesticide Data Program report. Meanwhile, according to Chris Campbell, a pesticide analyst for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), stated that the data indicates that 44 percent of the samples contained residues from at least one pesticide not approved for use on cilantro. “Higher than I have ever seen” in nearly a decade of reviewing USDA’s pesticide reports, quoted the LA Times.

Some 5 percent of spinach and 2 percent of apple samples tested positive for at least one violating pesticide, said the LA Times, citing Campbell’s figures. Of the cilantro tested, about 81 percent were U.S.-grown, 17 percent were imported, and the origin of the remainder was unknown.

Following an unusually high number of Salmonella recalls, cilantro growers and distributors received a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “guidance letter,” considered a rare agency move, said the LA Times. The letter cited 28 positive Salmonella findings in the fresh herb since 2004 and warned industry to “take action to enhance” the safety of cilantro, quoted the LA Times, which also noted that, since 2005, the FDA has only issued four such letters, including this one.

“I can assure you that some of these will be followed up,” said Ronald Roy, FDA food safety specialist, quoted the LA Times. “When we have a clustering of non-permitted residues around a certain (crop) or with a certain grower, then we investigate to find the cause and correct the specific problem so that it doesn’t continue,” Roy added.

“It’s something we need to look into,” said Kathy Means, vice president of the industry group, Produce Marketing Association. “We need to determine: Why this year, why this crop? What’s going on? … There aren’t that many cilantro suppliers. And so if you have a problem with one supplier, percentage wise (contamination) may be higher,” reported the LA Times.

Researchers have long believed that pesticides may cause Parkinson’s disease; experiments found that certain chemicals do, in fact, cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms in animals. The results of another study of 319 Parkinson’s patients and 200 nonParkinson’s-affected relatives found that people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are more than two times likelier to report pesticide exposure over people not diagnosed with the disease. In that study, certain insecticides and herbicides were responsible for increased risks of developing Parkinson’s.

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