The UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced an enforcement programme to crack down on illegal pesticide residues in winter lettuce for 2003/2004.

The Annual Report of the Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) for 2002 revealed that of over 4,000 food samples analysed, only 1% contained illegal residues, and none were judged to present a safety risk to the consumer.

Nevertheless the Department said it continued to be concerned about residues found in particular on winter lettuce, despite previous action taken to address the problem.

"I recognise consumers need to be reassured that produce does not contain undesirable or unnecessary residues and that good agricultural practice is followed. The evidence shows that the majority of farmers and growers operate well within the bounds of good agricultural practice," Defra minister Alun Michael said.

"But although there has been some improvement, the number of undesirable residues found in winter lettuce is still high so we intend to conduct a further monitoring survey of winter lettuce this year, and we will continue to take firm action against growers or retailers where it is necessary to eradicate the problem. Where it is appropriate, legal action will be considered," Michael continued.

The programme will involve sampling winter lettuce at all points in the supply chain, from grower to retailer. Winter lettuce grown in the UK under glass is particularly prone to fungal attack during the cool damp winter months and there are only a limited number of products approved for disease control.