Oxy Summer Research Program is sponsored by the Undergraduate Research Center.
Summer research fellow: Danielle Lyons '13, UEP major
Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Bhavna Shamasunder
Packaging, Pesticides, Policy, and Parity: Community-Based Approaches to Reducing Chemical Exposures through Food, and the Effectiveness of Current Policy
Published August 2012
Background: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic chemicals that interfere with the endocrine (hormone) system. EDCs are ubiquitous in the U.S. population, and have been linked to neurological, developmental, and metabolic disorders, various cancers, damaging effects on both male and female reproductive systems, and higher incidences of birth defects. A major pathway for human exposure to EDCs is food—through both packaging materials and pesticides. There is emerging evidence that low-income communities, communities of color, and families with limited food security have higher exposures to these chemicals. This project seeks to better understand possibilities for community-level interventions to combat these exposures and potential solutions to decrease chemical exposures through food.
Methods: This research began with an extensive literature review of studies on four EDCs: bisphenol-A, phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, and pesticides. Additionally, it included background research on chemicals regulation and food policy. This project utilized a mixed-methods approach including document analysis and semi-structured interviews with community experts on food policy, chemicals policy, or reproductive health; and participant research in community meetings and advocacy trainings around food justice.
Results: This research identified several suggestions for community-level interventions for the problem of EDCs in food. Among these are policy recommendations, advocacy programs, intervention in school lunches, physician involvement, and WIC and SNAP (CalFresh) programs as a means for limiting exposures through education and outreach. Community interviews revealed that many organizations are doing work on important related issues (hunger, nutrition, health) as a primary need, while rarely focusing on food quality. While the importance of other food issues has put intervention on the relatively new problem of EDCs on a back burner, many advocates expressed their interest in and the importance of learning more about and building partnerships around this work.
Conclusion: Literature reviews, community interviews, and participant observation all suggest that there are opportunities for new policy, advocacy, organizing, and education efforts around this problem by community organizations, policymakers, and public programs, as well as food, environmental and reproductive justice advocates. This research reveals possibilities in both research and advocacy to better bridge the food justice movement with the environmental health and justice movements.
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