A third of our food contains a cocktail of pesticides, report finds due to fruit and veg imports
A third of our food products contain multiple harmful pesticides, a new report has found, with imported fruit and vegetables frequently containing chemicals banned for use in the UK.
More fresh produce than ever now features a ‘cocktail’ of more than one types of pesticide, the Pesticide Action Network revealed.
Using government testing data, the campaign group ranks the fruit and vegetables that are most likely to contain multiple pesticide residues.
Strawberries top the list, with 89.92 per cent containing multiple pesticide residues, and they are closely followed by lemons, of which 83.72 per cent feature a ‘cocktail’ of pesticides.
A spokesperson for PAN said that the rise could be because of a rise in pesticide use in the UK.
He explained: “This could be due to the rise in UK pesticide use. For example, the area of UK land treated with pesticides rose by 63 per cent from 1990 to 2016 (the latest figures from the Government).
“Many crops are sprayed with pesticides far more times in a growing season than they used to be. As an example, in 1990 only 30 per cent of cereals were treated more than 4 times in a growing season. By 2016, that figure had almost doubled to 55 per cent.”
Almost a third (32 per cent) of all food tested by the government in 2019 (including meat, fish, grains and dairy) contained multiple pesticides, up from 23.5 per cent the previous year.
Fruit and vegetables contain even more; 48 per cent of those tested contained a mixture of pesticides, up from 36 per cent. Fruit is one of the worst offenders, with 67 per cent containing multiple pesticides, and with 94 per cent of oats and 27 per cent of bread contained the cocktail of chemicals.
Campaigning groups including the Soil Association and the Wildlife Trusts have asked the government to force farmers to curb their use of pesticides and herbicides, as they are harmful for biodiversity
The government is due to publish its National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticide, which will introduce a pesticide reduction target and increase financial and other support to British farmers to adopt non-chemical alternatives.
The PAN has said that consumers find it difficult to avoid these chemicals, as they are not mentioned on food labels.
Nick Mole, policy officer at the group, said: “Pesticide residues aren’t listed anywhere on food labels so the Dirty Dozen is the only way for British consumers to get a sense of which pesticides appear in their food.
“Most of us can’t access a fully organic diet so we hope this information will help people work out which produce to prioritise”.
Pesticides found on the produce include the insecticide Chlorpyrifos, which is banned for use in the EU but was found on produce imported into the UK. In multiple epidemiological studies, chlorpyrifos exposure during pregnancy or childhood has been linked with lower birth weight and neurological changes such as slower motor development and attention problems.
Possible human carcinogen Difenconazole is a fungicide used to control a variety of problems including blight and seed rot. It appears as a residue on the majority of the Dirty Dozen, and herbicide Glyphosate is one of the most widely used chemicals. It has been banned in countries around the world, but not yet in the UK.
A government spokesperson said part of the reason the pesticide data was going up is better testing.
They explained that it “uses the latest technology for analysis, which is constantly improving, and means that each year we can look for more pesticides at lower levels. For these reasons we expect to see a rise in the number of samples with residues detected”.