THE SOIL Association has said it is a scandal that the fruit supplied to children under the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme contains higher levels of pesticide residues than fruit sold in shops.

The organisation has published a report which shows that the government’s own testing procedures revealed that there was over 25% more pesticides in the samples of fruit and vegetables supplied to school children.

Nearly 30% more instances of multiple pesticides were also found in the school fruit and vegetable samples – although all in all cases the pesticides were present at levels below the government’s Maximum Residue Level. 

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said the Soil Association strongly supported the school fruit scheme.

“But it is wrong for a scheme that provides fruit and vegetables to the most vulnerable in society to source lower quality fruit and vegetables, apparently containing a higher proportion of pesticides and pesticide cocktails, than the fruit and vegetables available in shops.

“The school fruit scheme needs to focus on sourcing high-quality produce, wherever possible from the UK, and work towards achieving zero pesticides as quickly as they can.”

Peter Hall, a top fruit grower from Kent, said he suspected residues were higher in the school fruit because it was non-assured or imported.

“It seems odd that there is such a big difference. The only reason I can only think that there is no requirement in the [public procurement] specification for assured fruit.

“80% of UK producers operate to Assured Produce standards and they are audited pretty seriously once a year and checked on things like the use of chemical crop protection products.”

The Soil Association report, Pesticides in school children’s fruit, showed that in 2004, the Pesticide Residues Committee tested 167 samples of fruit supplied to schools under the SFVS scheme. 

It found 84% of samples of fruit and vegetables contained pesticides, with multiple pesticides being detected in 65% of the samples. 

Both figures were higher than the pesticides found in samples of fruit not destined for the school fruit scheme. Over half of the shop fruit samples (57%) contained pesticides and over one third (36%) contained multiple pesticides.