29 September 1995

Steady decrease is reported in chemical residues in food

By Peter Bullen

BETTER use of pesticides by farmers has reduced chemical residues in Britains food over the past decade, says Dr Peter Stanley, head of the governments Central Science Laboratory.

Study of consumers diets had shown that their exposure to residues had steadily decreased. Other studies showed that persistent residues in human fat and breast milk in the UK had fallen to among the lowest levels in the world.

Dr Stanley was reviewing the progress made since he became chairman of the governments working party on pesticide residues in 1982. Presenting its 1994 report – the last before he retires – Dr Stanley praised farmers for their part in reducing residues.

He cited cost-led moves to reduce pesticide use, precision use through integrated crop management systems and the introduction of grain passports that had cut excessive pesticide use in grain stores.

Another potent factor was the role of multiple food retailers in imposing strict quality codes on suppliers backed up by their own residue testing.

As a result, out of 2514 samples of UK food tested last year 1788 (71%) contained no residues, 711 (28%) had traces that were below the recommended maximum residue level (MRL) and only 15 (1%) were above MRLs. Of 1228 imported foods sampled 802 (65%) had no residues, 418 (34%) had traces and eight (1%) were above the MRL.

Unlike those of other countries, Britains £2.2m a year monitoring programme concentrates on foods most likely to contain residues, which made the 1994 results particularly encouraging, commented food minister Angela Browning.

Among the more surprising results was the detection of organophosphorus residues in five of 28 samples of organic bread tested. The UK Register of Organic Food Standards has been informed of the findings.

Out of 218 potato samples, 217 had residues below MRLs. But the single exception contained 2.3mg/ kg of aldicarb.