It’s here! However you spend your holiday season, it is a time for family, tradition, giving. It is thought our modern Christmas celebrations were formed in the 19th Century although some have deeper and more unusual origins. Read this for a bit of fun: 10 unusual Christmas traditions from around the world. One thing we all share is the love of the main event, the Christmas dinner. But, does our modern Christmas give us a little more than it should?
In a recent blog post by my colleague Richard Fussell, the question was raised: Is there really an increasing number of pesticides in food? The answer was not so simple. We are certainly better at detecting pesticides thanks to improved technologies and more sensitive techniques, and we know that many pesticides being used are more efficient at lower doses. So while analysis of pesticides in food is on the increase, our awareness is raised and regulations are becoming tighter, which can only be a good thing.
“Merry Christmas you filthy animals!”
A line from one of my childhood favourite Christmas movies, Home Alone, but in this context I want to talk about meat. Whether you prefer a turkey or goose, or something less traditional like a joint of beef, the meat and the carving are one of the “Oooh” moments in our Christmas dinner. Unfortunately meat and animal products, including cheese, often come under scrutiny for their chemical content due to modern farming practices. Pesticides can enter the food chain through the land which grows crops for animal feed, or through veterinary treatments. Residues have then entered into the food chain accumulating in the animal’s fatty tissue, subsequently being found in our meat. Now I don’t want to panic you and put you off your dinner, we must remember, these maximum residue levels (MRL) on crops are controlled by the various regulators, for example the European Food Safety Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and levels or tolerances are set so they are considered safe. Likewise, if the animal has been treated with veterinary medicines, there are maximum residue limits under veterinary medicine regulations. Controls are in place to protect us.
All the Trimmings
Who doesn’t love all those extra dishes that make the meal so special? The vegetables, the gravy, the cranberry sauce. Is your favourite on the naughty or nice list? The dirty dozen and clean 15 are clever media lists detailing those food stuffs more likely to contain higher levels of pesticides and those that don’t. It’s an interesting read and I wonder how it has changed over the years. Since 1996, the EPA has been working to lower levels or remove the use of certain pesticides, with a particular emphasis on the safety of food consumed by children. The process and research is ongoing, but from 2009 to 2016 the EPA cancelled all uses of the following:
Carbofuran and methamidophos use on all commodities
aldicarb use on potatoes and citrus
methomyl use on grapes and strawberries
acephate use on green beans, oxamyl use on soybeans, and imidacloprid use on almonds
all uses of formetanate-HCI on apples, pears, and peaches
Like to have a real tree to decorate? You may not have considered the way in which it was grown. Whilst you can find out if your tree comes from a sustainable forest, it is thought that only 1% of trees in the U.S. are organically grown, meaning the use of pesticides is common practice. Glyphosate, in particular is an all-round herbicide, the most widely used in the world and also the most widely scrutinised for its potential health effects, often featuring in the global media. The analysis of which can be tricky, involving extensive sample preparation and derivatisation. Read more about glyphosate and polar pesticide analysis here. Using Ion Chromatography with Mass Spectrometry gives a simple an ideal solution to this challenging analysis in food matrices as shown in this Application Note. There is no evidence to support pesticides from trees entering your home, but it is worth having a think about the soil that is left behind.
So, is your Christmas toxic? I think that depends on how much you over indulge rather than what’s on your plate. With that, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Fröhliche Weihnachten, Buon Natale, Feliz Natal and Happy Holidays! May your festive season be merry and bright and may all your Christmas’s be pesticide free.
Learn more on how Thermo Fisher Scientific is helping progress pesticide analysis with innovative technologies, ensuring laboratories stay ahead of the curve to meet this challenging topic. Check out our analytical workflows here.