(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2011) A 2009 European Union (EU) report on pesticide residues, published yesterday by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), shows food on the European market is still heavily contaminated with cocktails of pesticides. The percentage of EU food in shops and markets with multiple residues remains at a high level of 25.1%, meaning only a slight improvement in the last five years of reporting. The highest reported number of pesticide chemical residues in one food item remains at 26: One sample analyzed had 26 different pesticides!
Like the U.S. where consumers are exposed through food and drinking water to a variety of chemical mixtures of pesticide food residues, EU citizens also continue to be exposed to mixtures of pesticides on a daily basis. According to the report , compliance with the legal maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in food rose to 97.4 percent of the analyzed samples in 2009, up by about one percentage point from 2008, EFSA said.
However, like their counterparts in the U.S., the regulatory entities EFSA and European Commission still do not protect people against the effects of mixtures. Health standards for pesticide residues do not take these effects into account. Remarkably, EFSA is delaying the implementation of the 2005 residue directive rules that oblige regulators to take mixture effects into account. People, especially children and the unborn, will be put at unknown but potentially high risks by this delay of over six years.
Exceedances of the food standards in the national residue monitoring programs seem to have gone down from 3.5% in 2008 to 2.6% in 2009, but a comparison is not possible given the massive changes of food standards in 2009. Unfortunately, thousands of food standards have been relaxed by EFSA to the highest level among all the European Member states. While EFSA now recognizes that this approach was not justified and food standards are made stricter again, the massive relaxation remains. On the positive side in the 2009 monitoring report, the percentage of food items on the European market without measurable residues rose slightly to 57.5%, up from around 53% in 2008 and 2007.
Pesticide residues, most as chemical mixtures that have not been evaluated for potential cumulative and synergistic effects, continue to contaminate food and drinking water in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of a pesticide’s registration, allows a certain concentration of a pesticide on food, known as the food tolerance level. Pesticide residues in food are regulated by the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), but the tolerance levels assigned for certain pesticides, though determined “allowable,” still pose potential health risks. Studies show that a combination of multiple chemical residues can produce heightened toxicity. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticide exposure because they have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Read more at “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.” Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide describes a food production system that enables toxic pesticide use both domestically in the U.S. and internationally. See Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience. The only way to avoid toxic pesticide residues is to switch to organic foods.
As organic agriculture continues to grow and evolve, researchers are continuing to find new evidence of the benefits of choosing and growing organic foods, and the benefits of organic agriculture extend to everyone. Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure. A study published in 2008 finds that children who eat a conventional diet of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet. Another study finds that converting the nation’s eight million acres of produce farms to organic would reduce pesticide dietary risks significantly. On conventional farms, dangerous pesticide use is a danger to farmworkers, wildlife including endangered animals, as well as the water supply, and people especially children living in the area.
For more on organic food, visit the Organic program page.
Take Action: The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet in November to decide on a range of issues regarding the future of organic food and farming in the United States. Public participation is vital to the development of organic standards, as farmers and consumers relay their ideas to the board for consideration. Take action now.
Source: Pan-Europe Press Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.