Eat your veg – health benefits outweigh pesticide concerns

The doctor who heads up a national committee charged with investigating the levels of pesticide in the foods we are sold has said he understands there is a degree of public concern over chemical contamination, but the benefits of getting your five a day outweigh the dangers.

Speaking at the Festival of Science at the University of York this week, Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the Pesticide Residues Committee, said that the organisation had completed its analysis of food samples taken in 2006.

The ongoing survey looks at food produced in the UK and those imported from outside its borders.

Around two thirds of the foods tested showed no traces of the pesticides which concern the committee, while 1.7% of the samples had levels of chemicals above the legal safe limit.

“The results of the 2006 monitoring programme show we did not detect pesticide residues in 65.2% of the food we sampled and 1.7% contained residues above the permitted maximum levels,” said Dr Brown.

“We carried out full risk assessments of these cases, which included looking at the most vulnerable people such as children and the elderly. This year, as in all recent years, nearly all the residues we found were not likely to affect people’s health.

“However, we must follow up any problems we identify to maintain the high standards of protection we currently have.

“I can understand that some people have concerns about pesticide residues in their food, but as a doctor I cannot overemphasise the importance of continuing to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Scientific evidence shows that the health benefits far outweigh any concerns about pesticide residues.”

3,562 samples of both imported and UK produced food were collected in 2006 from many sources including shops, markets, ports and wholesale suppliers and tested for a wide range of different pesticides.

Results were published every three months and then summarised at the end of the year in this annual report.

As well as detailing the results of the monitoring programme the report provides information about the role of the independent committee and their work throughout 2006.

The committee meets in York four times a year. Every year they hold an open meeting where members of the public join them to discuss pesticide residues in food.

The annual report and the quarterly reports can be viewed on the PRC website.

David Gibbs

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