Almost half of all fresh produce is affected by use of the substances, and a proportion of supermarket food with residues has almost doubled in decade
A massive proportion of our everyday food is contaminated with pesticide – with up to 98 per cent of some fruits carrying traces of the chemicals.
Almost half of all fresh produce is affected by increasingly heavy use of the substances, a study of official figures has revealed.
Overall, the proportion of supermarket foods with pesticide residues has almost doubled in a decade.
Some 46 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables, such as grapes and apples, contained residues, up from 25 per cent in 2003.
In terms of processed food, residues were found in almost 97 per cent of flour and 73.6 per cent of bread.
In most cases the traces were below internationally recognised safety levels, however critics argue many of the substances are a known risk to human health and warn that the cumulative ‘cocktail effect’ of even very low levels may be harmful.
The figures are based on an analysis of government surveys involving hundreds of tests on 40 food types for 372 different pesticides.
They found 91.3 per cent of grapes were contaminated, while almost three in 100 were above the legal maximum residue level. They were also found on 98 per cent of oranges, 90.6 per cent of apples and 73 per cent of carrots.
Advocates say the chemicals protect crops and boost yields, which helps to keep food prices down.
Farmers also use them to prevent blemishes and to ensure fruit and vegetables meet the ‘beauty’ standards demanded by supermarkets. According to the figures within the report Pesticides On A Plate, published by the Pesticide Action Network UK today, the most common pesticide found was carbendazim.
The group said there is evidence linking it to developmental damage to mammals in the womb, as well as cancers and birth defects.
It was found on apples, beans with pods, cucumbers, grapes, oranges, pine-apples, pre-packed salads, raspberries, rice, some citrus fruits and spinach.
Heavy use of certain pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos, has been associated with the decline in bees, vital to pollinate food and other crops.
In theory, consumers can protect themselves by washing or peeling produce. But a study published by the Food Standards Agency last year found this is not always effective. Experts at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Northern Ireland found residues of the antioxidant diphenylamine and the fungicide carbendazim on apples ‘were not decreased by washing’.
Washing also failed to remove chemicals from potatoes – which are frequently eaten in their skins.
A consumer study published alongside the latest figures found three in five Britons are concerned about pesticides in food.
Catherine Fookes, of the Organic Trade Board, which encourages shoppers to choose foods produced without such chemicals, said: ‘The increasing presence is worrying and needs to be addressed. Consumers can and should ask questions.’
A government spokesman said: ‘The Chemicals Regulations Directorate monitors pesticide use closely. Their reports into levels are made publicly available on their website.’
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