EU pesticide manufacturers have struck back at claims by the Pesticide Action Network that contamination of food is on the increase.

PAN Europe has released figures from a leaked EU food monitoring report which show that 4.7% of fruit, vegetables and cereals contain pesticides above maximum residue levels (MRLs).

Almost half of all fruit, vegetables and cereals in Europe contain traces of pesticides, with 354 different pesticides identified, it adds.

“These are the worst pesticide results we’ve ever seen,” said Elliot Cannell of PAN Europe. “A record proportion of fruit and vegetables is contaminated, while 23 pesticides were detected at levels high enough to present an acute risk to public health.”

Mr Cannell condemned efforts by the pesticides industry to resist new EU rules that will remove certain pesticides from the market on the grounds that they contain hazardous active ingredients.

“The need to reduce exposure to hazardous pesticides is more urgent now that ever,” he said.

But the European Crop Protection Association accused PAN Europe of “escalating a climate of fear”.

“Presenting the figures as being of concern is unfounded,” said ECPA director general Friedhelm Schmider. “The figures mentioned are in line with last year’s report. The MRL exceedences remain exceptional and have not increased.”

Dr Schmider added that EU agriculture was highly successful and safe. “We should keep in mind that EU consumers benefit from a longer life expectancy than any previous generation.”

He also called for a full impact assessment of the effects of moving to a hazard-based system of pesticide approvals, which will remove large numbers of pesticides from the market, irrespective of their risk.

This is also a central demand of the Farmers Weekly Save Our Sprays campaign.