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The latest pesticide residue results published today [1] reveal continuing problems with residues in apples, lettuce and potatoes, but indicate that consumers can tuck into their carrots with more confidence that in previous years. Imported produce such as pineapples and limes again show a high incidence of pesticides.

Friends of the Earth is warning that the Government must do more to support UK fruit and vegetable growers find alternatives to chemical pesticides if it is to protect consumer health and meet its objective of minimising pesticide residues in food. The group also called on supermarkets to work harder with overseas suppliers to ensure that their produce does not contain toxic pesticides.

Safety levels were exceeded in one sample of lettuce and one sample of potato and pesticides were found at "unacceptable" levels in one apple sample. One lettuce sample contained inorganic bromide at levels 22 times the safety level [2] for young children. The Pesticides Safety Directorate stated that "It is unlikely that one occasional high intake would produce any significant effect" but reported that "initial signs/symptoms of high dose bromide consumption would probably be headache, nausea and gastrointestinal disturbances". Inorganic bromide is naturally present in food at low levels, but at higher levels it is considered to arise from the use of methyl bromide, a highly toxic soil fumigant which is also a contributor to ozone depletion.

A potato sample was found to contain chlorpropham which was found at levels which would exceed safety levels if eaten by infants. The Pesticides Safety Directorate noted that the level of intake of the pesticide would vary depending on how the potatoes were prepared and cooked, with unpeeled potatoes containing the highest intake. The Government withdrew advice to peel fruit and vegetables to reduce pesticide residues last year [3].

Most of the apples sampled were imported, but one UK apple sample contained levels of prothiofos at levels which the PSD described as "unacceptable". Use of the pesticide is illegal in the UK.

Friends of the Earth Pesticides Campaigner Sandra Bell said:

"UK carrot growers should be congratulated on producing pesticide-free vegetables. It shows that it can be done. But it is not such a positive picture for home grown apples, lettuce and potatoes which are of real concern, especially for children's health. If the Government is serious about reducing pesticide residues in food, it must act. A pesticides tax in next year's budget could raise money to research safer ways of protecting crops and provide free and independent advice to farmers. Supermarkets must also play their part by making sure the food on their shelves is safe by helping suppliers in the UK and overseas reduce pesticide use"

Key findings from today's results include:

  • 46% of potatoes contained residues, One sample of UK maincrop potatoes contained tecnazene - withdrawn in January 2002. Another sample contained chlorpropham at levels exceeding the Acute Reference Dose for infants. Other residues found included aldicarb which is acutely toxic and a suspected endocrine disruptor [4], and imazalil which is carcinogenic and a developmental/reproductive toxin.

  • More than three quarters of apples (78%) contained residues and 70% contained residues of more than one pesticide. Prothiofos, which is not approved in the UK, was found on one UK sample at a level described as "unacceptable" due to uncertainties about the level at which health effects may occur. Other residues included carbendazim (in 7 UK samples and 10 imported) a suspected hormone disrupter and chlorpyrifos (in 10 UK samples and 10 imported) an organophosphate which has been severely restricted in the U.S. due to concerns about effects on children's health. Brazilian apples were also found to contain folpet (a carcinogen) and dimethoate (an organophosphate) at over the MRL [5].

  • More than half of grapes tested (55.5%) contained residues, one sample contained 5 residues, there were 3 MRL exceedences.

  • About a third of cucumbers (30.5%) contained residues.

  • All limes tested contained residues.

  • A sample of avocado contained dithiocarbamates (some of which are suspected hormone disrupters) over the MRL.

  • More than half of pineapple samples contained residues including triadimefon which is a suspected carcinogen a developmental/ reproductive toxin and a suspected endocrine disruptor.

  • Nearly half of aubergines (47%) tested contained residues

  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of pears contained residues, 25% contained multiple residues - up to five different pesticides, Two samples contained folpet - a known carcinogen.

  • Half of raspberry samples, most of which were imported, contained residues, some 27% contained multiple residues - up to four different pesticides. One sample from Spain contained dicofol, a possible carcinogen and suspected hormone disrupter over the MRL

  • Carrots, cauliflowers and frozen peas (mainly UK grown) were free from residues.

Notes

[1] See www.pesticides.gov.uk

[2] the Acute Reference Dose is a safety level for short term intake, PSD say that levels of a chemical substance below the ARfD should indicate that there is not an "appreciable health risk to the consumer"

[3] The long standing advice to peel fruit and vegetables before giving them to young children was withdrawn in 2002.

[4] More information on the possible health effects linked to specific pesticides from www.pan-uk.org/

[5] the Maximum Residue Level is the maximum concentration of a pesticide residue legally permitted in food, the MRL is not a safety level but is meant to indicate that Good Agricultural Practice is being followed.

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