Unapproved pesticides found in UK food

Over 99% of food is safe to eat, says a government report on pesticide residues in food. The survey shows two-thirds of food in Britain is pesticide free, and the remainder has levels of legal residues below regulatory limits. But some of the food surveyed contained pesticides that are not approved for crop use in the UK, with some residues exceeding safety limits.

Of the 4,000 samples tested by the Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC), less than 1% was found to exceed Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) set by regulators. No residues were found in goat’s and ewe’s milk, chicken, eggs, honey, marrows, orange juice, yoghurt or fromage frais. Nearly half of all crisps sampled contained residues, though below levels that would be of concern for either adults or children who are the biggest consumers. A third of breakfast cereals and two thirds of cereal bars also contained low level residues.

“Overall, this report shows that the high standards of food safety found through PRC monitoring in recent years have been maintained,” says Ian Brown, chair of the PRC. “The vast majority of food – over 99% of samples tested – is either residue free or contains residues at levels in accordance with guidelines.”

However, the report found pesticide residues in eight samples of infant food, including chlorpropham, a sprout suppressant used on potatoes. “It is of note that the residues found for chlorpropham would not comply with the incoming MRL of 0.01 mg/kg that comes into force in 2002,” says the report. “However, a detailed risk assessment indicated that none of the residues found were at levels of concern for infant health.”

Of greater concern was the detection of substances that are not approved for crop use in the UK, with some residues on UK-grown food exceeding safety limits. Dicofol was found on strawberries, iprodione on celeries and azoxystrobin on lettuce, at maximum or higher than maximum residue levels set by the EU. The survey looked in particular at winter lettuce that has a history of high residues including those from non-approved uses. Eighteen percent of lettuce samples tested were found to contain residues exceeding the MRL. Six percent contained residues of non-approved pesticides.

Friends of the Earth campaigners remain critical of testing procedures in the UK, which tests fewer samples per 100,000 population than any other EU country. FoE is calling for a significant increase in the amount of monitoring carried out, with special attention given to pesticides in children’s food with new laws prohibiting residues in babyfood.

One obstacle is the limited funding available, making it difficult for the PRC to implement additional testing. The monitoring programme currently costs around £2.2 million pounds, partly funded by a levy on pesticide companies. FoE wants an increase in this levy to pay for extra monitoring.

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