One-third of all food contains toxic
Fruit, crisps and baby food all contaminated
By Rob Edwards
Almost one-third of all the food on sale in the
UK -- including fruit, vegetables, cereals, dairy products, crisps
and baby food -- is contaminated with toxic pesticides, according to
the latest analysis by government scientists.
Many of the pesticides can damage the nervous system, disrupt
hormones and inhibit the development of babies' brains in the womb.
There is official concern about the risks of 'toxic cocktails' of
chemicals, for which environmentalists say there is no safe level in
All of the mandarins and clementines sampled by scientists,
virtually all of the lemons and high proportions of the grapefruits,
strawberries and grapes contained traces of pesticides. The toxins
were found in two-thirds of cereal bars, 45% of crisps and 29% of
The new annual report from the government's Pesticide Residues
Committee also reveals that some samples of milk were contaminated
with lindane, a deadly insecticide banned in Europe. Butter imported
from New Zealand was found to contain DDT, a pesticide banned in
most of the world. Pesticide residues were also detected in eight
samples of baby food last year. In five of these samples , levels of
one compound were in breach of a new safety limit that comes into
force this year.
Contamination was also found to have broken recommended limits in
new potatoes, celery, lettuce, mushrooms, nectarines, peaches,
mangoes, grapes, mandarins, strawberries and star fruit. There were
also cases in which the pesticides found had not been legally
licensed for use in the UK.
The Pesticide Residues Committee says that most of the
contamination should not damage health because of the large safety
margins. But it is concerned about potential risks when there are
mixtures of several different pesticides. 'There is a theoretical
risk that a mixture of related pesticide residues could present a
greater risk than the single residues that are currently
considered,' said Dr Ian Brown, the committee's chairman.
More than one pesticide was found in 94% of mandarins and
clementines, 90% of lemons, 44% of grapefruits, 38% of strawberries
and 25% of kiwi fruit. Chemical cocktails were also found in bran,
cereal bars, breakfast cereals and crisps.
More than 4000 samples of food were analysed by four government
laboratories for more than 100 different pesticides. Residues were
found in 29.4% of samples, of which 0.7% were in breach of safety
'The government continues to be complacent because only a small
proportion of samples breached official safety limits. If there is
no risk from pesticide residues, why have they been banned from
processed baby-food?' said Sandra Bell, pesticides campaigner with
Friends of the Earth (FoE), which analysed all the fruit and
vegetables sampled by the Pesticides Residue Committee. 'The truth
is there is no safe limit for many of these chemicals .'
When we launched our Safe Food Campaign in February, the Sunday
Herald reported that half of the fresh fruit and vegetables on sale
in supermarkets was contaminated with pesticides. The latest figures
show there has been little change in this picture, although Marks
& Spencer and the Co-op are trying to phase out pesticides.
Sandra Bell said the huge extent of contamination was a good
reason for the government to help farmers 'get off the chemical
treadmill'. More support was needed for organic farmers, and more
research into safer ways of controlling pests.
'British organic farmers are now getting the same treatment from
the supermarkets as their non-organic counterparts -- low prices and
little loyalty to UK produce,' she said. 'At least organic farmers
in England now have a commitment from the government. If organic
farmers in Scotland don't get the same support it is difficult to
see how they can compete.'
But the new figures also showed that in seven cases pesticide
contamination was discovered on organic food, which is meant to be
free from all chemicals.
The reasons for the contamination are unclear, though it could
come from neighbouring non-organic crops or from farmers breaking
the rules and using chemicals.
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