Misconceptions About Environmental Pollution, Pesticides and the Causes of Cancer

Policy Reports | Energy and Natural Resources

No. 214
Sunday, March 01, 1998
by Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold

Misconception #3: Reducing Pesticide Residues Is an Effective Way to Prevent Diet-Related Cancer The Program in Action

"If fruits and vegetables become more expensive because of reduced synthetic pesticides then cancer, especially among the poor, is likely to increase."

On the contrary, fruits and vegetables are of major importance for reducing cancer; if they become more expensive because of reduced use of synthetic pesticides, then cancer is likely to increase. People with low incomes eat fewer fruits and vegetables and spend a higher percentage of their income on food.

High consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lowered risk of degenerative diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and brain dysfunction.27

  • Over 200 studies in the epidemiological literature have been reviewed that show, with great consistency, an association between low consumption of fruits and vegetables and cancer incidence.28 [See Appendix Table I].
  • The quarter of the population with the lowest dietary intake of fruits and vegetables has roughly twice the cancer rate of the quarter with the highest intake for most types of cancer (lung, larynx, oral cavity, esophagus, stomach, colorectal, bladder, pancreas, cervix and ovary).
  • 80 percent of U.S. children and adolescents29 and 68 percent of adults did not meet the intake recommended by the National Cancer Institute and the National Research Council: five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Publicity about hundreds of minor hypothetical risks, such as pesticide residues (see Misconception #7), can cause loss of perspective on what is important: half the public does not know that fruit and vegetable consumption is a major protection against cancer.30

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