Continuing problems with high levels of pesticide residues in fruits popular with children

New pesticide residue results reveal continuing problems with high levels of pesticide residues in fruits popular with children, including apples, pears and grapes. But processed baby food is completely residue free.

A quarter of apples and pears tested contained more than one pesticide residue, and some contained up to six different types of pesticide, some above the maximum residue levels (MRLs). Results from the Government's National School Fruit Scheme, also out this week, showed similar results. Dicofol, a possible carcinogen and suspected `gender-bending' chemical, was found above legal levels in two Brazilian apple samples from the school fruit scheme. A toxic organophosphate, dimethoate, was found above legal levels in two retail apple samples.

Nearly a third of grapes had multiple pesticide residues, with levels of methomyl, an acutely toxic, suspected hormone disrupter, above legal limits. Test results for grapes released last week also found two pesticides at levels which could cause possible health effects such as nausea, headaches, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Raspberry samples were found to contain up to six different pesticides, including bifenthrin, a suspected hormone disrupter.

The results did however reveal that fruit-based baby food was completely free of residues, as now required by law. But fresh fruit is not protected by the same legislation, leaving parents who make their own baby food from fresh fruit, and young children eating fresh fruit at risk.

Levels of one pesticide in lettuce (inorganic bromide) were found to be above the safety level for infants and toddlers, posing a "potential health concern". And levels of carbendazim in sweet potato were three times the safety level.

Friends of the Earth is calling on the Government to do more to support UK farmers and growers in finding alternatives to risky chemical pesticides and to eliminate pesticide residues in food as quickly as possible.

Friends of the Earth Pesticides Campaigner Liz Wright said:

"At a time when the Government is trying to get everyone to eat more fruit and vegetables, it should be doing more to ensure that healthy food does not contain hidden extras. Babies and young children need extra protection from pesticide residues. If baby food can be residue free, there is no reason why all fruit and vegetables can't be, particularly those which are popular with children."

Other findings from today's results include:

  • Lettuce - lettuces were again found to contain a variety of multiple residues, with up to six pesticides present on a single lettuce. One sample contained enough inorganic bromide to cause potential health concerns, with safety levels exceeded by up to four times. Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) were also exceeded for azoxystrobin in a UK lettuce and endosulfan, a suspected human hormone disrupter, in a Spanish lettuce.

  • Cherries - half of samples contained multiple residues, with a quarter exceeding legal levels. Carbendazim (in Canadian cherries) and fenvalerate (in Iranian cherries) were found above the MRL - both are suspected endocrine disrupters, and carbendazim has been found to effect sperm production in rats.

  • Pumpkin - four UK samples contained residues of dieldrin - a persistent, carcinogenic chemical not approved in the UK since 1981. It is thought likely that it arose indirectly from former usage before the chemical was banned.

  • Fruit bread - a third of samples contained multiple residues - up to five different pesticides per sample. Residues found included carbendazim, chlorpyrifos (an organophosphate with restricted uses in the USA) and iprodione (a suspected endocrine disrupter and carcinogen).

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