Possibly hazardous pesticides found in supermarket grapes

A new governmental study on pesticides in food has found that the controversial insecticide, chlorpyrifos, was found above maximum EC-recommended levels in Somerfield grapes, and two-thirds of all grapes sold contained pesticide residues.

The information is contained in the a report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s (MAFF) Pesticide Residues Committee released on 28 February, covering both imported and home produced food. It found that one sample of white seedless grapes from Israel, which was sold in a Somerfield supermarket, contained chlorpyrifos at above maximum EC-recommended levels. The pesticide, one of the chemicals recently recommended for phasing out by the European Commission and under review for classification as hazardous (see related story), was also found in similar quantities in another sample from a greengrocer. It has also been banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in domestic products and is heavily restricted in farming use.

Sixty-seven percent of all grapes were found to contain pesticide residues, and 29% contained multiple residues of up to five different pesticides. In its last annual report on pesticides in all produce, the government admitted that some residues were high enough to give a toddler diarrhoea (see related story).

The results also revealed that 27% of apple juice samples contained the fungicide carbendazim, including samples from Safeway, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s own brands. This pesticide has been found to effect the production of sperm and damage testicular development, as well as cause birth defects in rats and now appears on an EC list of substances which are suspected of being hormone disrupters. Although only found in small concentrations in all the samples, environmentalists argue that because hormone disrupters can effect the body at low levels, this is no guarantee of safety.

One sample of rice contained a residue of methyl bromide in excess of the EC maximum recommended levels and three samples of grapes, two of which were produced in the European Union country of Greece, contained residues of the insecticide methamidophos, at similar levels.

Apart from grapes, apple juice, and rice, only frozen peas and frozen burgers were examined in the nationwide test. Peas and burgers were found to be free of residues, as were organic rice and apple juice samples. In view of the findings of chlorpyrifos in grapes, MAFF announced that a further study would be conducted this year, involving the testing of produce by all EC member states.

Friends of the Earth (FoE), which calls for a ban on chlorpyrifos (see related story), has written to major supermarkets to urge them to cease the use of hormone disrupting pesticides, and advocates a pesticide tax to help farmers to convert to less-intensive farming methods. “Around half of fresh fruit and vegetables sold in UK supermarkets contains residues of pesticides,” Real Food Campaigner at FoE Sandra Bell told edie. “The government tends to be slow to take action, so retailers should make special efforts to stop their suppliers from using the most dangerous, hormone-disrupting pesticides and reduce overall use of all pesticides.”

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie