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One-third of all food contains toxic pesticides

September 29, 2002
Fruit, crisps and baby food all contaminated
By Rob Edwards Environment Correspondent

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 food.

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 breakfast cereals.

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 limits.

'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.


©2002 smg sunday newspapers ltd. no.176088. all rights reserved.


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