Chemical reaction

Where are we most exposed to chemicals in food and our daily lives and what can we do about it? Anna Turns investigates in this excerpt from her new book.

Even some of the highly hazardous pesticides that have been prohibited for use in the EU can still be produced and exported to other countries.

The European Commission aims to implement a ban on these exports by 2023, but for now, loopholes in legislation give way to double standards.

Not only are these toxic pesticides causing harm elsewhere, but an investigation by the Pesticide Action Network revealed that some foods being imported back to the EU from places such as China, India, Thailand and Brazil contain residues of banned pesticides and they inadvertently end up on our plates anyway.

Exotic fruits such as guavas, goji berries and breadfruit had the highest concentrations of banned pesticide residues.

It’s easier to avoid these illegal substances if you don’t buy as much imported produce, and that’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint too.

Perhaps better labelling would tell us more about the chemicals that are left in and on the food we’re buying?

More than 1,500 products have been certified glyphosate residue free by The Detox Project in the US, but campaigns targeted at one specific pesticide are problematic.

Firstly, glyphosate can still be used as long as final residues on the end product are not detectable. Secondly, residues of other equally highly hazardous chemical pesticides are not tested for.

Go Toxic Free by Anna Turns explores practical tips to reduce chemical exposure. Credit Steven Haywood 

Thirdly, it gives consumers a false sense of security while providing producers with an unfair marketing advantage for a relatively small cost. Rigorous organic certification is expensive – glyphosate residue-free certification is an attempt to short-cut that. Pesticide labelling isn’t as feasible as it sounds.

While it would be useful to know that twenty pesticides have been used to grow the satsuma you’re about to eat, there’s no way all that information could fit on the label, and the pesticides vary depending on location and time of year too.

We can put pressure on retailers to phase out extremely harmful chemicals from their supply chains and support Pesticide Action Network’s call for a global treaty on highly hazardous pesticides.

Some argue that it’s impossible to feed a growing population without pesticides, but that’s missing the point. Globally, we produce far too much food – as much as a third goes to waste. The real issues are uneven distribution and inefficient practices

One of the most impactful things you can do to reduce your chemical footprint is to cut out food waste in your home. From the irrigation to fertilizers and transport emissions, so much pollution results from growing and rearing the food that we eat, so every bite counts.

By consciously choosing to buy, cook and eat foods that have been farmed without the use of highly hazardous pesticides, we can support a system that’s better for people and the planet.

Go Toxic Free: Easy and Sustainable Ways to Reduce Chemical Pollution (£14.99, Michael O’Mara Books) by Anna Turns is out this week.


● Avoid cleaning products with ‘caution’, ‘danger’ or ‘warning’ on the label.

● Use fragrance-free products labelled as low- or no-VOCs, especially for sprays that are more easily inhaled.

● Look for refill options. Check online for in-store refill locations near you, visit your local zero waste shop, buy in bulk or subscribe to a home delivery service that recycles your refill pouches.

● Buy concentrated pods: drop plant-based cleaning capsules or a powdered version into

your empty spray bottle, add water and shake to dissolve.

● Choose child-friendly options: preferably a bleach-free and plant-based cleaning spray that gets rid of greasy residues from surfaces, toys, bibs and high chairs.

● Make your own: bicarbonate of soda mixed with sea salt and white vinegar plus a good dose of elbow grease makes a great scrubbing agent. White vinegar with lemon juice produces an effective smear-free, multi-purpose cleaning spray.


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