Week of 1/30/2005

Dear EarthTalk: I would like my children to start eating organic foods. Are there any organic products that young children would enjoy?

—Amanda Seth, Rockland, ID

A recent study by the Environmental Working Group found that each day more than one million children ages five and under ingest unsafe levels of pesticides from food consumed at home.

"Infants and children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides, which can include cancer and nerve damage. Typically, the younger a child is, the greater the degree of susceptibility," says environmental health researcher Linda Bonvie. "Each exposure to a toxic chemical adds to a kid"s body burden, and since children can’t de-toxify as well as adults can, they need to be protected from pesticides and environmental poisons wherever possible," she adds.

Fortunately, organic foods designed especially for kids are turning up more and more in home kitchens and on school lunch trays. Whole Foods markets, for instance, offers an entire line of organic foods for kids. "Many of our shoppers wanted to provide kids with organic food choices, but a lot of traditional foods didn’t appeal to a kid"s palette," says Whole Foods brand manager Linda Boardman. Whole Kids products, including organic peanut butter, string cheese and flavored applesauce, among other items, are available at Whole Foods stores in 28 states as well as in Canada and the U.K.

Meanwhile, other national natural foods grocery chains such as Trader Joe"s and Wild Oats offer a wide range of foods safe for kids to eat, including organic juices from R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic in flavors ranging from apple to tropical. Stonyfield Farm"s YoBaby organic yogurt is available for babies and toddlers, and the company"s colorful tubes of YoSqueeze are designed for easy lunchbox-packing.

It"s best to also avoid breakfast cereals laden with sugar and preservatives. One good alternative is any of the cereals—including Amazon Frosted Flakes, Gorilla Munch, Koala Crisp and Orangutan-O"s—made by Envirokidz, which uses less sugar and all organic ingredients in its products.

For snacks, kids can choose from a wide range of organic choices too. Planet Harmony offers organic jellybeans, fruit snacks and gummy worms, and Country Choice Naturals sells organic animal cookies. And parents shouldn’t forget that fruit from any organic farmer"s market can also satisfy a child"s sweet tooth.

Indeed, with such an abundance of organic choices, there is no reason for any child to go hungry in order to avoid pesticides, preservatives and sugars.

CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group, (202) 667-6982, www.ewg.org; Whole Foods Markets, www.wholefoods.com; Trader Joe"s, www.traderjoes.com ; Wild Oats, www.wildoats.com ; R.W. Knudsen, www.knudsenjuices.com ; Santa Cruz Organic, www.scojuice.com ; Stonyfield Farm, www.stonyfield.com; Envirokidz, www.envirokidz.com; Planet Harmony; www.harmonyfoods.com ; Country Choice Naturals; www.countrychoicenaturals.com.

Dear EarthTalk: What has been causing holes in the Earth"s ozone layer and what is being done about it?

—Marcin Wasilewski, Delray Beach, FL

Chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), of which there are many variations, are the prime culprits in the depletion of the Earth"s ozone layer. The ozone layer is composed of ozone molecules, which bind together in the Earth"s stratosphere to serve as Earth’s sunglasses, shielding us from damaging ultraviolet rays. Meanwhile, CFCs, commonly used in refrigerants and aerosol sprays, are virtually indestructible and linger in the atmosphere, destroying ozone molecules faster than they can regenerate.

The problem is most acute over Antarctica where, in 2004, an area more than nine million square miles—or two-and-a-half times the area of Europe—was affected. Australia, North America and Europe are also at great risk from ozone depletion. The greater exposure to ultraviolet light resulting from a thinning ozone layer leads to increased skin cancers, eye cataracts and lowered disease immunity. Ozone depletion also causes damage to ocean ecosystems, reduces agricultural yields, and may be affecting the reproductive abilities of some amphibians, especially frogs whose populations are depleting rapidly around the globe.

In 1987, 24 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to reduce CFC production worldwide through a phase-out of 96 different chemicals. CFC production is now banned in most countries, and use began to decline after peaking in 2000. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, which oversees implementation of the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer should be able to repair itself by 2050 as long as CFC production trails off as planned.

Despite widespread ratification and implementation of the Montreal Protocol, some environmental groups do not think enough is being done to protect the ozone layer. For one, black market trading in CFCs is a big problem that perpetuates the discharge of these chemicals into the atmosphere. And a growing number of scientists are concerned that newer, increasingly popular chemicals such as n-propyl bromide and halon-1202, neither of which are controlled by the Montreal Protocol, could contribute significantly to ozone depletion. N-propyl bromide is used primarily as a degreasing solvent in metal cleaning, and halon-1202 is used in military fire-fighting equipment. In fact, the presence of halon-1202 in the atmosphere has increased five-fold since the late 1970s.

"At the moment I believe we do not have a big problem with these new substances," says MIT professor Mario Molina, who is credited with discovering the problem of ozone depletion from CFCs in the 1970s. "But we cannot be complacent. If enough of them are manufactured and emitted, we will delay the recovery of the ozone layer quite significantly."

"Early recovery is possible with an aggressive commitment," agrees Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth Canada. "Governments need to stop rolling back legislation for a total ban on these chemicals."

CONTACTS: Montreal Protocol, www.undp.org/seed/eap/montreal ; United Nations OzoneAction Programme, www.unep.org/themes/atmosphere ; Friends of the Earth Canada, (613) 241-0085, www.foecanada.org.