18 October 1999
Illegal pesticides in lettuce

BRITISH lettuce can contain an illegal cocktail of chemicals, according to a new report today.

London-based environmental consumer group Sustain claims the UK has the worst testing record per capita of any country in Europe, reports the London Evening Standard.

Worst affected, say researchers, is the lettuce. More pesticides are applied to lettuce than any other vegetable crop, with an average 11.7 applications in a year.

The study, using the governments own data plus information from the food industry, will be officially published in full next month.

Researchers found testing of nitrate residues in lettuces by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in 1998 was poorly planned and few samples were used.

Testing of the vegetable was arbitrary and often done on fewer occasions to save money, says the report. Large number can be found to regularly exceed EC legal limits.

It reveals that in one study by MAFF the amount of pesticides applied per hectare had increased by 600% between 1984 and 1994.

Yet testing of pesticide residues of UK-produced lettuce by MAFF has been reduced from 70 samples in 1995 to 21 samples in 1998, claim the report authors.

For imported lettuces, the situation is even worse – there were 22 samples taken in 1995 and just two samples last year.

Spanish lettuces have proved cheaper for UK consumers, but their production is detrimental to Spains environment, says the report.

In Murcia, which produces one-third of all Spanish lettuces, an estimated tonne of nitrogen is applied to every hectare, compared to the recommended 200kg, so that around 375kg leaches into the environment.

Sustain believes biological systems, using predators such as ladybirds, are viable alternatives to pesticides in lettuce cultivation.