p0327-autism-spectrum-disorderAt the airport, it’s not uncommon to hear an announcement for “Code Orange,” meaning: we’re at heightened risk for a terrorist threat. I think we need a similar warning about industrial agriculture’s threat to our environment and our children’s health: heed warnings and take precautions.

This spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data showing a rise in autism rates: 1 in 68 U.S. children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  In response, Dr. James Perrin,  M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said: “These rising rates certainly underscore the need to improve our understanding of the causes of autism and to work on prevention.”

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist at University of California-Davis, says “it’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism.”

While there may not be any one smoking gun, Phil Landrigan, M.D., pediatrician and Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has identified pesticides as a risk factor.  That’s because pesticides are toxic chemicals that can cause direct injury to a child’s developing brain.

A new report this summer showed that mothers who are exposed to certain classes of pesticides face an increased risk for having a child with ASD.

The good news is consuming organic food can significantly reduce children’s exposure to pesticides. Another new study  published this July shows that organic produce has significantly higher levels of beneficial nutrients, and four-times less pesticide residues than conventional.

As a dietitian, I promote “elimination diets.”  In other words, remove offending ingredients from the diet, then see if symptoms improve. I recommend applying the same strategy to our food system. Let’s remove risky chemicals, and check back on autism rates in another few years.