Why You Should Be Able to Buy Organic With Food Stamps

Poor kids deserve the same chance at reducing their pesticide exposure as their richer peers.
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(Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

(Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Scientists are still trying to figure out whether a long-term organic diet translates to better health for kids. At the very least, several studies have found that kids in suburban and urban environments who eat all organic are less likely to ingest certain pesticides.

In October, Environmental Health Perspectives published a study that found similar results for kids in a rural area too—specifically low-income kids who ate organic foods for a week. This finding was significant because researchers have long wondered whether an organic diet would make a difference for rural kids. Many had assumed that folks living near farms were exposed to more (secondhand) pesticides than the average person, so eating conventional produce wouldn't add much to their pesticide intake. The Environmental Health Perspectives study brings the research closer to showing that organic diets make a difference to pesticide exposure in all American kids.

It also means the United States in due for some policy changes, according to a new analysis from the Children's Environmental Health Network, an advocacy group that lobbies for laws reducing chemicals in the environment that may harm kids. Check out two of the Network's suggestions below, along with some backing research:

1. BAN CHLORPYRIFOS

There's been past research suggesting chlorpyrifos, a popular pesticide, affects young children's developing brains. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency set out new rules banning homeowners from using chlorpyrifos, and slashing the amount of chlorpyrifos farmers could legally apply to apples, grapes, and tomatoes.

The Children's Environmental Health Network argues that's still not enough. Because juice and fresh fruits and vegetables are a major source of pesticide exposure for young children, the group advocates for a full ban on chlorpyrifos on farms. The EPA is considering this policy change.

2. MAKE ORGANIC FOODS ELIGIBLE FOR FOOD ASSISTANCE

Families that depend on food stamps and other public benefits can't always buy organic, as the rules vary by program and state. The Children's Environmental Health Network calls for more universal accessibility. "Ensuring that federal food assistance programs (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) allow for the purchase of organic—or at least local, in-season, and sustainably grown foods—at farmers markets and other venues is another way to make organic food more accessible, thereby lowering children's exposures to pesticide residues on food, as well as their body burdens of many pesticides," the analysis' authors write.

Whether your diet exposes you to pesticides shouldn't depend on your income level. Luckily, certain policies can make organic and other low-pesticide foods more available to more Americans.

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