If there weren't already enough reasons to avoid eating grasshoppers and other insects, a story on the San Francisco Chronicle presents another: lead poisoning. California residents from the Mexican state of Oaxaca have been found to have high levels of lead in their blood, and one of the likely exposure pathways is consumption of grasshoppers (known as chapulines in Mexico) from the Zimatlan area of Oaxaca. Lead is a potent neurotoxin, especially for the young. Exposure during youth may affect a person's adulthood -- recent research from the University of Cinicinnati shows a possible connection between lead exposure and the tendency to commit violent crimes (more from Living on Earth).
Here's part of the of the story from the Chronicle (my emphasis):
But health investigators on both sides of the border have concerns about traditional foods sent from Oaxaca's Zimatlan area after finding a possible link to high blood lead levels found in Oaxacans living in the scenic town of Seaside overlooking Monterey Bay.
"We are seeing an alarming rate of acute exposure," said Eric Sanford, a community health clinic doctor at the Seaside Family Health Center.
Sanford says many of his patients are U.S.-born children of Oaxacan parents from the Zimatlan area, who have higher blood lead levels than any other group in Monterey County with some reaching 20 micrograms per deciliter.
"I fear that other Oaxacans from the same villages living elsewhere in the U.S. may be experiencing the same problem," said Margaret Handley, an epidemiologist at UC San Francisco.
Researchers first linked the high lead levels to deep-fried grasshoppers, known as chapulines. Further tests showed similar results in pumpkin seeds, dried herbs, hot sauce and mole sent from Zimatlan. Handley's research showed that one grasshopper exceeded the Food and Drug Administration recommended daily limit of 6 micrograms of lead for a child by 60 times.
In Oaxaca, grasshoppers are fried and seasoned with garlic, salt, chili powder and lime juice in lead-glazed pots. Chemical reactions allow the bugs to absorb lead during cooking and storage, according to Mario Villalobos, a chemist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who works with Handley.
But Villalobos has no answer when asked why U.S. residents from Zimatlan have higher lead blood levels than immigrants from other parts of Oaxaca, who eat the same foods.
"We have yet to pinpoint why this problem is so localized," said Villalobos. "It'll take more extensive research and more tests to solve this mystery."
More articles about eating insects: my post about why some humans are queasy about bug eating (including me), the new wave of entomophagy (eating insects) in the New York Times Magazine (including a restaurant in Santa Monica, California) and "Eating bugs — tasty and good for the environment?" from Earth News.
Random link from the archive: Indian Dal Export Ban
Technorati tags: Mexico : Food