(Beyond Pesticides, October 22, 2008) Fruits, vegetables and cereals sold throughout the European Union (EU) contain record levels of pesticides, according to an official report to be published later this month by Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe. Almost half of fruits, vegetables and cereals are now contaminated with pesticides –a substantial increase on the level seen just five years ago. These findings come at a time when industry and farmers have begun to intensify their opposition to proposed restrictions on toxic pesticides.
Five of the pesticides most common in the food chain are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, or disruptive to the hormonal system. The findings come just days before politicians in Brussels are set to debate new EU pesticide legislation —-including a proposal to eliminate the most hazardous pesticides from use in food production. But despite evidence of widespread food contamination, efforts to reduce dietary exposure to hazardous pesticides are being fiercely contested by the pesticides industry.
“These are the worst pesticide results we’ve ever seen,” said Elliott Cannell, Coordinator of PAN Europe. “A record proportion of fruits and vegetables are contaminated, while 23 pesticides were detected at levels high enough to present an acute risk to public health, according to the EU’s own risk calculations. The need to reduce exposure to hazardous pesticides is more urgent now than ever. Politicians in Brussels must back the removal of the worst pesticides from the food chain, and ensure that hazardous pesticides are replaced with safer alternatives wherever possible.”
According to the report, 49 percent of fruits, vegetables and cereals contain pesticides –the highest level of pesticide contamination recorded in the EU and represents an increase of around 20 percent over the past five year period. In total, 4.7 percent of fruits, vegetables and cereals contain pesticides at concentrations above maximum legal limits, while over 10 percent contain four or more different pesticide residues. Five of the pesticides found most in food products sold in the EU are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic to reproduction, or disruptive to the hormonal system and include: maneb, procymidone, iprodione, carbendazim and deltamethrin.
354 different pesticides, the highest total ever recorded, have been found in products sold in the EU. For the first time, imidacloprid, a controversial pesticide banned in France due to links with mass bee deaths, has been listed among the most common pesticide residues in foods.
But the European Crop Protection Association accused PAN Europe of “escalating a climate of fear,” adding that EU agriculture was highly successful and safe. Recently, an organization representing Scottish farmers said its members must be allowed to use pesticides to overcome the country’s wet climate. The group said it plans to step up its lobbying to Ministers who are due to vote on the proposed restrictions later this year. In the Netherlands, dutch farmers have also entered the debate saying that wide restrictions on pesticides could lead to the demise of the country’s iconic tulip industry. Tulip farmers have said that tulips and other bulbs would be particularly hard-hit because pesticides are used to prevent diseases that can prevent bulbs from flowering.
Last fall, the European Parliament voted in favor of tighter legislation to be enacted by 2013. In May, the European Union Health Commissioner called on European governments to adopt tougher guidelines on pesticides and to ban the use of all potentially dangerous pesticides that can cause cancer, reproductive effects and hormone disruption. It is expected that in the fall the plan will be formally adopted as the common position of the European Council and passed to the European Parliament for the second reading. If passed, the EU would have one of the strictest pesticide regulations in the world.
Sources: PAN Europe Press Release, MSNBC, BBC News