Biologist asks policy makers to ban harmful pesticides

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The proportion of bread products sold in the United Kingdom that contain traces of two or more pesticides reached 50 percent last year — almost double the average for the last decade. This is the warning of the Pesticide Action Network UK, based on findings reported by the UK Government’s Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food. Researchers had tested a range of “bread products” — including not only standard white and brown loaves, but also crumpets, muffins and scones — and detected a total of eleven different pesticides, including five with known associations with cancer.

PAN UK policy officer Nick Mole said: “With the cost of living crisis forcing people to spend less on food, it’s vital that consumers can trust that relatively cheap products like bread won’t expose them to dangerous mixtures of chemicals.

“The Government claims that it has committed to tackling pesticides, so why have pesticide cocktails been allowed to double in a staple food that most of us eat at least once every day?”

Alongside raising the alarm over the presence of pesticides in baked goods, PAN UK has also today released its annual “Dirty Dozen” — a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with traces of multiple pesticides.

The worst contender was the grapefruit, pesticides having been found on 100 percent of samples tested, followed by grapes (90 percent), and bananas (72 percent).

Grapes also had the dishonour of racking up the highest number of distinct pesticides found on a single sample — at 14 — followed by raspberries (13) and Peppers (11).

According to data collected last year on behalf of the UK Government found that 69 percent of tested fruit and 30 percent of vegetables contained residues from at least two pesticides.

Mr Mole added: “There is a growing body of evidence showing that pesticides can become more harmful when they’re combined with each other — and yet we continue to set safety limits for just one chemical at a time.

“We actually have no idea of the long-term impacts of consuming tiny amounts of hundreds of different chemicals.

“We are choosing to play Russian roulette with people’s health.”

According to PAN UK, residues from a total of 137 different pesticides were identified across all produce sampled in by the governmental testing programme — including, they said, “many linked to serious chronic health effects.”

These included 46 cancer-causing “carcinogens” and 27 endocrine disruptors, chemicals which interfere with the body’s hormones and are known to have effects ranging from birth defects and developmental disorders to causing infertility.

Also detected were 14 so-called cholinesterase inhibitors, which impair communication between nerve cells, and 11 “developmental or reproductive toxins”, which PAN UK said have been linked to problems with sexual function and fertility, and can cause miscarriage.

Of the 137 pesticides identified, moreover, 47 are not approved for use in the UK

Mr Mole said: “These pesticide residues should not be making it onto the plates of UK consumers.

“They are either slipping past our shoddy border checks unnoticed, or foreign producers are being handed a competitive advantage by being allowed to use pesticides banned in the UK to protect human health or the environment.

“At a time when we are asking our own farmers to produce more sustainably, we should not be making it harder for them to earn a living.”

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To tackle these “pesticide cocktails”, PAN UK recommends that the UK ensures both that any new trade agreements do not open the door to an influx of pesticide-laden imports and that new restrictions are placed on their use in domestic farming.

However, they added, the Government’s 2018 commitments to cut down on pesticide use and publish a reviewed National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides have neither been fulfilled.

In fact, the group continued, the authorities appear to be backing away from promises made to introduce pesticide reduction targets and support farmers in their transition to safer and sustainable alternatives.

Mr Mole concluded: “To protect the health of their customers, some UK supermarkets are beginning to sit up and take notice of pesticide cocktails.

“Meanwhile, the Government’s key strategy on pesticide reduction is already five years late.

“Our new Environment Secretary, Dr Thérèse Coffey, must take urgent action to reduce pesticide-related harms. How much longer should consumers and farmers have to wait?”

The full findings of the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food’s Quarterly monitoring reports can be read on the UK Government website.

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