20 September 2000
Pesticides in one-third of food

PESTICIDES were detected in almost one-third of food samples tested in spot checks by government inspectors last year.

And the level of residues rose to 43% in fruit and vegetable samples.

Residues below legal limits were found in 27% of the 2500 samples tested by the Ministry of Agricultures Working Party on Pesticides.

In 1.6% of samples tested, pesticide residues were found at levels which were higher than legally permitted.

But the working party said even foods above legal limits posed no threat to health due to built-in safety margins.

Concerns were expressed about Spanish sweet peppers, which contained residues of insecticide methamidophos above legal limits.

A toddler who ate a third of one of these peppers could suffer a stomach upset, reports the committee.

There was also unhappy about chlormequat residues in pears. Chlormequat is used to increase yields and improve shape.

Levels were seen to drop in the second half of the year. The committee attributed this to action by the UK industry to ensure imported and UK pears comply with legal levels.

Pesticide levels above legal limits were found in 11% of winter lettuce samples in one survey, and one was found to contain a non-approved pesticide.

None of the residues found were a health concern, reported the committee.

A second survey of samples from UK growers found no samples containing illegal residues.

No residue was found in cereal-based infant foods and no residues of lindane were detected in milk.

But Sandra Bell, food campaigner with Friends of the Earth said: “The public will be dismayed to learn that almost half the fresh fruit and veg they are eating contain pesticides.

“The Government encourages people to eat more fresh fruit and veg, so they should be doing more to ensure that they are pesticide-free.”

Professor Ian Shaw who chairs the committee told the BBC Radio 4 Farming Today programme that he had concerns about the effects of multiple residues.

He admitted that the effects of these together were unknown and called for more research in the area.