Toxic tater treats: Deadly pesticide use on sweet potatoes in China

Sweet potatoes, a common ingredient in dog treats imported from China, could have one of the most acutely hazardous pesticides on the planet in it.  Farmers in China admit to using aldicarb in quantities “three to six times” the recommended level to grow commodities such as sweet potatoes and ginger adding to the country’s growing list of food scandals.

Acute toxicity

Although the Chinese government has banned some of the worst pesticides, overall use continues to climb. Efforts to reduce pesticide use or even ensure quality control have been basically useless as long as conflicts of interest inherent in the agricultural and pesticide supervision systems continue to exist.

Aldicarb, manufactured by Bayer CropScience, is considered the most toxic insecticides in use on field crops today. However, due to the high acute toxicity of aldicarb, its use has been banned in Europe and is currently being phased out of use in the US.

Banned in the U.S.

In 2010, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Bayer agreed to a complete ban on aldicarb use by 2018. Risk assessments conducted by the EPA found aldicarb no longer met food safety standards and had posed “unacceptable dietary risks”, especially to infants and young children.

Incredibly, Bayer said they are cooperating with the EPA even though it “does not fully agree” with the Agency’s risk assessment, adding that the analysis “does not mean that aldicarb poses an actual risk” to consumers.

Bayer is a bad actor

“After thousands of poisonings, it is mind-boggling that aldicarb is still in use,” said Steve Scholl-Buckwald, managing director of the environmental group Pesticide Action Network North America. “The wheels just grind so, so slowly. It never should have been registered in the first place back in 1970 and by the mid-1980s there was sufficient data to suggest it should have been taken off the market.”

Aldicarb was the first of the so-called “bad actor” pesticides that Pesticide Action Network targeted in 1985 for worldwide ban.

Voluntary schmoluntary

Scholl-Buckwald said that the EPA relies mostly on voluntary agreements, instead of bans, to avoid lawsuits from manufacturers. “The system is designed to leave things like this on the market as long as possible. It’s innocent until proven guilty. It’s really unconscionable that it takes literally decades to do this,” he said.

After 40 years, the question is why should there be a phaseout period at all and why U.S. pet food companies importing commodities from China still insist there is nothing for consumers to worry about.

SOURCES:
Aldicarb – National Library of Medicine database
Chemical summary of aldicarb
Aldicarb use in China
Farmers in China admit using aldicarb
EPA aldicarb fact sheet
Aldicarb phaseout
PAN Pesticide Action Network pesticide primer
PAN Pesticide Database
PAN’s what’s on my food database
Sweet Potatoes: Pesticide Residues Found by the USDA Pesticide Data Program

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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