Many fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets and greengrocers contain pesticide residues that are above the maximum legal level, an in-depth report has said.
By Harry Wallop, Consumer Affairs Editor
5:34PM BST 24 Sep 2009
Apples, peas, and grapes are sometimes covered in crop spray that is above the maximum allowed levels allowed under European law.
The findings come from the Pesticides Residues Committee, part of the Health and Safety Executive, after testing more than 4,000 samples of food and drink.
The levels of pesticides varied considerably, with imported fruit and vegetables tending to have higher levels, according to its 2008 annual report. One in 7 beans in a pod one in 25 fresh peas (in pods) and one in five yams all had pesticides above the allowed level. One in 70 apples and pears had illegal levels of pesticides.
The Food Standards Agency insisted the illegal levels did not necessarily mean that the food was unsafe to eat, and pointed out that the overall levels of pesticides in food had fallen over the last year. In 2007 1.8 per cent of food had illegal levels; 2008 it had fallen to 1.2 per cent.
All of the fruit and vegetables supplied to schools contained pesticides within allowed levels, though nearly all the apples (49 out of 52 tested) and every one of the bananas had some form of pesticide in them. Many of the pieces of fruit had more than one pesticide.
The Soil Association, which represents the organic industry, said the report was alarming nonetheless.
Emma Hockridge, policy co-ordinator at the Soil Association, said: “Unbelievably we learn yet again that pesticides are turning up in fruit and vegetables supplied to schoolchildren. Yet again the government tells us this is nothing to be worried about.
“Yet we know that children’s exposure and susceptibility to pesticides is likely to be higher as per body weight they ingest more food and drink than adults and their bodies’ ability to process and excrete any such residues is different to that of adults.
“It is unacceptable that 94 per cent of apples, and 100 per cent of bananas tested contained pesticides school fruit and vegetable scheme.”
She argued that the “cocktail” effect of different pesticides had never been tested properly. “Powerful new evidence is emerging that suggests the combined effect of pesticide ‘mixtures’ may be more significant than previously realised, especially with regard to endocrine disruptors,” she said.
Pesticides, at high doses, can cause allergic reactions such as causing itchy skin and breathing difficulties.
Dr Ian Brown, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said: “I understand that people are concerned about pesticide residues in their food, but as a doctor I cannot state too strongly the importance of eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Scientific evidence shows that the health benefits are far greater than the risk from pesticide residues.”