Fruit and vegetables supplied to schoolchildren under the UK government's School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme contains 25% more pesticides than samples of the same vegetables sold in shops, according to research by organic sector lobby group the Soil Association.

Nearly 30% more instances of multiple pesticides were found in the school fruit and vegetable samples, the association said. The Government's Pesticide Residues Committee wrongly claims that the pesticide residue profiles of school fruit and vegetables appear "similar" to residues found in fruit and vegetables sold in shops, it said.

"The Soil Association strongly supports the school fruit scheme," said Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association. "But it is wrong for a scheme that provides fruit and vegetables to the most vulnerable in society to source lower quality fruit and vegetables, apparently containing a higher proportion of pesticides and pesticide cocktails, than the fruit and vegetables available in shops."

"It is vital that children eat more fruit and vegetables; to encourage this the school fruit scheme needs to focus on sourcing high-quality produce, wherever possible from the UK, and work towards achieving zero pesticides as quickly as they can," he said.

The Soil Association report, 'Pesticides in school children's fruit' shows that in 2004, the government's Pesticide Residues Committee tested 167 samples of fruit supplied to schools as part of the government's SFVS scheme. A staggering 84% of samples of fruit and vegetables contained pesticides, with multiple pesticides being detected in 65% of the samples. Both figures are far higher than the pesticides found in samples of fruit not destined for the school fruit scheme. Almost all pesticides are present at levels below the government's maximum residue level'. No organic food was sampled in schools.

The Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) also tested 882 samples of the same non-organic fruit and vegetables on sale in shops in 2004. Over half of the samples (57%) contained pesticides and over one third (36%) contained multiple pesticides.

In comparison, the 55 organic samples from shops were almost completely free (96%) of pesticides. Pesticides were found in two samples labelled organic, one of which contained multiple pesticides, although according to the suppliers, these are likely to have been non-organic samples which were incorrectly labelled. (2)

In the USA, a recent study found that school children fed organic diets showed significantly reduced exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. On changing to an organic diet, levels of the pesticide metabolites in the children's urine declined dramatically and immediately.