Tuesday

28th Jun 2022

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)
Listen to article

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • 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.

Interview

'Without pesticide reduction, we'll have a food crisis in Europe'

Despite tough lobbying, the EU commission is set to present this week the first binding EU law mandating farmers to reduce their use of chemicals. Long-term food security must not be sacrificed for short-term gains, says EU commissioner Frans Timmermans.

Opinion

How industry watered-down new EU supply chain rules

The Commission fell hook, line, and sinker for the arguments of big business on the corporate due diligence directive — conflating rules and regulations with so-called 'red tape' and rebranding regulations as 'burdens' on business which should be scrapped.

Podcast

Against white feminism: European edition

Author Rafia Zakaria turned the feminist world upside down with her bestselling book Against White Feminism. She talks with the Brussels-based journalist Shada Islam about the prevalence of white feminist thinking in Europe — particularly France.

News in Brief

  1. EU engine ban splits Germany's coalition
  2. Over five million Ukrainian IDPs return home
  3. 37 dead from Melilla stampede, says NGO
  4. Norway police call for Pride cancellation 'until further notice'
  5. EU watchdog concern over Europol extended mandate
  6. EU environment agency chief: 'extremely limited' resources
  7. Hungary's forint hits record low, piling pressure on Orbán
  8. Johnson: Northern Ireland bill could enter into force this year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  2. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  4. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBHow price increases affect construction workers
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic think tank examines influence of tech giants

Latest News

  1. Western public has 'moral' duty to Ukraine, Nato chief says
  2. Kiwis are my slavery — the hellish life of a Sikh labourer in Italy
  3. Why EU's increased militarisation should worry us all
  4. Member states water down renewable energy proposal
  5. Greek minister denies pushbacks despite evidence
  6. Pollution causes 10% of cancer cases in Europe, EU report finds
  7. G7 leaders discuss further sanctions against Russia
  8. Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us