Pesticides And Fresh Produce

Posted by Bird Tricks on

I make it a point to read the comments following each blog I post. I try to answer as many questions as I can, make suggestions and offer support or encouragement where needed. The other day I came across this very important comment.  I want to thank Barbara DelGiudice for cross-posting this from the Remembering Alex Group to our blog page:

…a friend just lost her 2 african greys within minutes after eating grapes from a
well known big box store. she washed them and gave them to her parrots. the
first parrot died within minutes of eating the grapes, the other parrot was dead
20 minutes later.

The necropsies showed now abnormalities- still waiting for the toxicology
reports. the one necropsy was performed by dr. zantop from maryland and the
other necropsy was performed by dr. davidson at new bolton. both veterinarians
believe it was due to possible chemical poisoning from the grapes.

the department of agriculture at university of penn has been notified and an
investigation is pending. the grapes, as well as pellets and other fruit are
being tested for toxins.

i post this with the hope that others will not have to experience such a loss.
if you don’t already– please consider feeding only organic fruits and veggies
to your parrots. certain fruits/veggies, such as grapes are heavily sprayed
with chemicals that can be toxic. try and buy local rather than imported.
regulatory practices in other countries vary greatly in regard to the
management of produce.

feel free to cross-post. i will update the group about the toxicology findings
when they come in…

I posted this to the birdtricks facebook page. Immediately there was a sense of panic with everyone who read it. This is pretty scary stuff.  Here we are trying to feed our birds the best possible diet, and tragedy strikes. There isn’t a bird alive that doesn’t LOVE grapes. I pointed out that this wasn’t really about grapes and that all produce needs to be eyed suspiciously.The fact is that we live in a world full of toxins and this time the message just happened to be hammered home with grapes.  I don’t want anyone to stop feeding fresh foods because of this. There are things we can do to reduce the possibility of this happening in our homes.

A solution, in part, to this problem would be to buy only organic produce. Organic food growers use only natural means of protecting their crops rather than synthetic or chemical pesticides that remain on, sometimes in, the foods we eat. Regulations state that fertilizers used for organic growth must not be petroleum or sewage-based. They must be grown in safe soil, have no genetic modification and be kept apart from regular produce. Of course, there are also nutritional advantages to organically grown foods.

Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks. Organic foods are not readily available to all, there is a higher cost and even though demand is currently exceeding supply for organic foods, I have, at times, opted to buy conventional products over organic ones because they are past their prime.

I take this last “drawback” as an acceptable and inevitable one. Once a fruit or vegetable has been picked and severed from the plant that sustained it as it grew, it begins to die. THIS is normal. Fresh foods do not have a long shelf life. If it does NOT begin to wither after a short while, something is wrong. (The last time I expressed these thoughts in a post, some USDA guy found fault with my reasoning. He suggested that I’m a conspiracy theorist because I feel I should outlive the tomatoes I buy.)

According to helpguide.org these fruits and vegetables retain the highest residue of pesticides, and should, therefore, be bought organically

  • Apples
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cherries
  • Grapes (imported)
  • Kale (I would include ALL leafy greens in this category)
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Strawberries

The following list of fruits and vegetables have thicker skins and rinds making them more naturally resistant to insects and fungi. The result is the use of less pesticides:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Corn (sweet)
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Peas (sweet)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

It’s almost impossible to buy ALL of our foods organically for different reasons. When we do buy conventionally grown produce, try to see that it is grown in our own country, although my research is telling me that our own use of pesticides is not that much lower than in other, less regulated, countries. Consumerhealth.org states that these foreign grown foods are the highest in their use of pesticides:

  • Chilean grapes
  • Canadian and Mexican carrots
  • Mexican broccoli and tomatoes
  • Argentine and Hungarian apple juice
  • Brazilian orange juice.

The same source also states that these domestically grown foods ranked higher in pesticides than in foreign grown product:

  • fresh peaches
  • fresh and frozen winter squash
  • fresh green beans
  • apples
  • pears

Are we all thoroughly freaked out yet?? Yeah, me too.

There are some options for those times that we must buy conventionally grown produce. The first, and most obvious, is washing everything well before serving. I need to stress here that water alone is not enough to fully remove pesticides. If it was, the farmers would be in trouble every time it rained. How odd that rain and plant health might prove incompatible to modern farmers. Their solution? Water resistant poisons. Brilliant!

Making matters worse is that many foods are waxed (with food-grade wax – an interesting term) to prolong shelf life and improve appearance, locking in the pesticides we are trying to remove.

When you are washing your food, take into account all of the inaccessible areas on its surface. Broccoli, for instance, poses a challenge in this area being so intricate and tightly packed. Soaking broccoli and other textured produce for 10 -15 minutes is recommended, but I recommend soaking all fruits and vegetables.
Some people use a drop or two of dishwashing liquid, some people use a peroxide solution. I prefer a 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar solution. It works beautifully, and I know vinegar will not harm me or my birds. I also keep some ready in a spray bottle for a quick washing because it works quickly and effectively.

Another method is peeling. This process will considerably reduce any pesticide residue left behind after washing. The problem with this method is that the edible rinds and the layers right inside of it contains the highest nutrients and we would also be losing those.

Finally, there’s a gizmo on the market that seems both scientifically and ecologically sound. The Biosafe Plasma Detoxifier was brought to our attention by Ahmed Haitham, one of those who responded to the facebook post mentioned above. Thanks Ahmed. I am pretty intrigued, but I can’t for the life of me find a price on one of them.

Pesticides and toxins are a part of today’s world. It is a fact that we have to live with everyday.Unfortunately, it is the smallest, our children and our birds, that are most vulnerable to their effects. Again, a solution to this problem is NOT eliminating fresh foods from the diet. By doing that, you will, without doubt, be jeopardizing your bird’s health. Its up to us to take whatever measures we must to ensure that our foods are safe.  If that means a little extra work, then so be it.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.


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