6th Dec 2023

Toxic pesticide residue in EU fruit up 53% in a decade

  • Blackberries, peaches, strawberries, cherries and apricots were found to be the most contaminated of the fruits (Photo: Ricardo)
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Fruits and vegetables produced in the EU are still contaminated with hazardous chemicals, despite years-old promises by EU member states to phase them out.

Nearly a third of apples and half of all blackberries analysed in a major study had traces of chemicals used in the most toxic types of pesticides, which are linked to cancers, cardiovascular problems and diabetes.

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  • Some of the most harmful pesticides are still being found in fruits and vegetables produced in the EU

There was a 53-percent increase in contamination by the most hazardous pesticides found in fruit for the period 2011-2019, said the report, published by the organisation PAN-Europe (Pesticide Action Network) on Tuesday (24 May)

Toxic substances found in kiwis rose from four percent in 2011 to 32 percent in 2019, and half of the cherries sampled by officials were contaminated in 2019.

The analysis, based on nearly 100,000 samples, puts into question claims on the reduction of pesticides in the bloc made by the European Commission.

Under its Farm to Fork strategy, the EU proposed halving the use of and risk from pesticides by 2030.

Brussels started to monitor the progress of member states in 2019. Last year, the EU executive found a 12 percent drop in 2019 in the use of pesticides that contain these toxic chemicals.

But in contrast, the PAN Europe analysis shows an eight-percent increase in the proportion of fruits and vegetables contaminated with the most hazardous pesticides in 2019, compared to 2015-2017.

"These chemicals should disappear from our food. But instead, we observe a dramatic increase in exposure to these most toxic substances over the last ten years," said Salomé Roynel, a campaigner from PAN Europe.

Laws are being ignored and consumers are being exposed to increased risk, she said.

EU member states have been legally obliged to substitute the most dangerous substances in pesticides with safer alternatives since 2011.

But the new report explains that failing to implement alternatives has led to an increase in plant and insect resistance to the most hazardous pesticides, prompting their continued use, year-after-year.

"It is clear to us that governments have no intention of banning these pesticides … but medical experts say some chemicals have no safe limit and that applies to most of these pesticides," Roynel added.

Lobbyists stress-test EU rules

PAN Europe also found that Belgium is the country producing the most-contaminated fruit and vegetables (34 percent of the samples were contaminated) — followed by Ireland (26 percent), France (22 percent), Italy (21 percent) and Germany (20 percent).

Some 87-percent of pears in Belgium and 85-percent of those in Portugal were contaminated by at least one toxic chemical.

But nearly a third of all fruits sampled were contaminated by hazardous substances in 2019 — the latest year for which data was available to researchers at the time of the study.

Overall, blackberries, peaches, strawberries, cherries and apricots were found to be the most contaminated fruits.

Although pesticide contamination of vegetables is lower, toxic pesticides have been increasingly found in some vegetables — namely celery, cucumbers, spinach and lettuce. Celery, celeriac, kale, chicory and Brussels sprouts were the most contaminated.

The commission is expected to put forward a legislative proposal with new pesticide reduction targets on 22 June, after facing delays over food-security concerns.

Campaigners say there has been an intensive lobby campaign by pro-pesticide farming lobbies, taking advantage of the current geopolitical situation to press their case.

Over a third of Europeans are concerned about pesticide food contamination, according to an EU-wide polling from 2019.


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