Pesticide levels in Spanish peppers puts MAFF ‘transparency’ to the test

Finnish reports of excessive pesticide levels in sweet peppers from Spain have led MAFF to test samples on sale in UK supermarkets. The results show high levels for an organophosphate.

Results of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Food’s tests have been made public, in what is an example of MAFF’s new commitment to releasing pesticide-related data on a regular basis, instead of annually.

Ten out of 24 sweet pepper samples imported from Spain tested positive for excessive levels of methamidophos, an organophosphate used as an insecticide. According to MAFF, the highest levels of methamidophos detected in some of the peppers “could result in consumers eating a large portion of peppers experiencing a mild stomach upset. They would not cause long term health effects”.

Methamidophos is not approved for use in the UK because an application for its use has never been submitted. It is used heavily in China’s rice fields and on a range of crops in the US, including potatoes, cotton, lettuce, tomatoes, cauliflower and broccoli. The insecticide is highly water soluble and concerns have been raised about water contamination.

Finnish tests detected excessive levels of another insecticide, endosulfan. However, the UK tests showed endosulfan levels in Spanish sweet peppers below the Maximum Residue Level.

MAFF has asked the Spanish Government to consider establishing a pre-export pesticide screening programme for peppers.

Earlier this year, pesticide levels in a range of common foods sold in supermarkets showed that only 1.3% of the tested foods had pesticide levels higher than Maximum Residue Levels. But the Pesticides Trust and Sustain, “the alliance for better food and farming”, argued that the UK’s food testing programme is so small that its figures are not reliable. (see related story).

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