Consumer-driven supermarket demands for minimal pesticide residues in fresh produce could eventually mean growers have to provide evidence of using forecasting or monitoring systems under the Assured Produce scheme.

Supermarket pressure for changes to the scheme has decreased as it has matured, says AP chairman Chris Payne, partly because of AP”s policy to anticipate market requirements and new regulations.

“But there has been pressure to minimise pesticide residues,” he says. “Even though the amounts currently found are extremely low, and of no human health safety concern.”

As a result Assured Produce now instructs its crop protocol authors to identify guidelines to include as advice to further reduce levels of residues that appear on member”s crops, while still maintaining crop quality and good agricultural practice.

 Currently these focus on optimising the use of late applications of pesticides to the edible part of the crop, and of post-harvest treatments.

potato example

 For example in potatoes, growers planning to use dithiocarbamate blight fungicides, such as maneb and mancozeb, are instructed to plant deeper and build bigger ridges to avoid the chemical coming into direct contact with exposed tubers in cracked ridges, which can occasionally result in residues. Other guidelines are in place for aldicarb, and pesticides used during storage such as CIPC and imazalil.

 In future there could be new audit points to encourage further uptake, he says. “We”re discussing with various organisations the types of indicators we might be able use to measure progress.”

 A potential audit point being discussed is increased evidence of growers using forecasting or monitoring systems for pests or diseases to make informed decisions about crop protection, he says.

 “Or it may be checking spray residues to make sure growers are using satisfactory alternation of pesticides to avoid resistance.

“But I do not anticipate we will ever have audit points saying you must not use pesticide X. If a pesticide is approved we do not second guess the statutory authorities.”

Providing guidance on minimising residues for growers should head off supermarket pressure for restricted pesticide lists, he says.

Retailers have also driven the requirement for compliance with an international assurance standard. “As a nation we import quite a lot of fresh produce so the supermarkets also need to address the standards from their overseas suppliers.”

That led retailers including Waitrose, Somerfield and Sainsbury”s to adopt the European Retailer Protocol, which seeks to be the international assurance scheme, he says.

“Increasingly the UK market was asking, because its overseas suppliers were EUREP certified, for its UK producers also to be.”

 In response, AP benchmarked itself against EUREP, which allows UK producers from a single audit to be both AP and EUREP assured. “We”re in the process of re-benchmarking against the updated EUREP 2 standard.”

Supermarket issues in depth on p83-86.

mike.abram@rbi.co.uk