Friends of the Earth's (FoE) has claimed that a cocktail of pesticides above legal and safety limits has been found in a range of fruit and vegetables.

The latest government survey of pesticide residue, conducted by the Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC) found that:

  • UK grown non-organic strawberries contained dicofol (unapproved for use on strawberries in the UK) at illegal levels. Dicofol is similar to DDT and is a suspected hormone disrupter. The three organic strawberry samples were free of residue Organophosphate (OP).
  • Pesticides were found above legal limits in, grapes, starfruit, nectarines and peaches. 
  • In peaches and nectarines the OP methamidophos exceeded safety levels for adults and toddlers, the PRC admitted that "safety levels have been significantly eroded".
  • All 'soft citrus' fruit contained residues including imazalil at levels which the PRC described as an unacceptable risk but most of the residue was assumed to be in the peel.
  • Potatoes were found to contain aldicarb above safety levels. Aldicarb is a carbamate insecticide which works on the nervous system, it is highly toxic and is classified by the World Health Organisation as 'extremely hazardous'.
  • Iprodione, a suspected hormone disrupter, was found above legal limits in UK celery although it is not approved for use on celery here.
  • Most grapefruits (83%) and lemons (93%) tested contained pesticide residues.
  • Lindane was found in mushrooms. This pesticide is now banned in the EU and there are fears that exposure to this pesticide may be linked to breast cancer.
  • One sample of tomatoes from Spain contained residues of six different pesticides, none of the five organic samples of tomatoes contained residues.
  • 97% of the fresh salmon samples contained residues. DDT was found in fresh and canned salmon (due to contamination of food or the environment).
  • Pesticides were also found in bread but milk was found to be free of residues.

PRC states that none of the samples present safety concerns for consumers, but the FoE insists that it only looks at exposure levels in individual foods, not the overall cocktail of pesticides that people are being exposed to.

Commenting on the survey, FoE said although more of the pesticides exceeding legal limits were found in imported produce, nine UK samples contained illegal levels of residues (above the Maximum Residue Level) and nine other UK samples were found to contain pesticides which are not approved for use in the UK. "The government has a policy to minimise pesticide use. These results suggest it is not doing enough to implement it."

FoE wants the government to ban the most risky pesticides including those organophosphates and hormone disrupters with most evidence of harm to human health. It also wants the government to extend the new regulations prohibiting residues in babyfood to fresh produce and to introduce a levy on pesticide products to fund research into non-chemical means of control and provide independent advice to farmers about reducing pesticide use.

Sandra Bell, FoE's pesticides campaigner said: "We're appalled by this cocktail of risky pesticides in the very foods which should be a healthy choice such as strawberries, lettuce and celery. It's particularly shocking that some of these pesticides are above recognised safety levels for toddlers. New regulations in July will make any of these residues illegal in processed babyfood. Today's results show that this approach needs to be extended to fresh fruit and vegetables too.

"It's very disappointing to see that high levels of pesticides were found in UK foods as well as imports and that illegal use of pesticides continues to be a problem. We want the government to take more action to crack down on dodgy chemicals in imported food but it must also do more to help farmers in the UK to get off the chemical treadmill".

The results of the survey were published by the Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC), to view them, click here.