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EU report find high levels of pesticide residues in vegetables and cereals

Peppers, grapes, cucumbers and eggplant are a health risks

23.11.2005 |Margriet Samwel

In Council Directives 86/362/EEC3 and 90/642/EEC4, as amended, maximum levels are fixed for pesticide residues in and on products of plant origin. Member States are asked to check regularly the compliance of foodstuffs with these levels.
Besides national monitoring programmes, the Commission services recommended, via Commission Recommendation 2002/663/EC8, the participation of each Member State in a specific EU co-ordinated monitoring programme.

As a result of this monitoring programme in October 2005 the COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT „Monitoring of Pesticide Residues in Products of Plant Origin in the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, 2003“ was published.

See the full document.

In the special EU co-ordinated programme, eight commodities (cauliflower, sweet peppers, wheat, aubergines, rice, grapes, cucumber and peas) were analysed for 42 different pesticides.
For cereals, 2785 samples were analysed compared to 40,041 samples for fruit and vegetables  A more restricted group of pesticides (average 134) was analysed for cereals compared to fruit and vegetables (average 185) and the percentage of pesticides found as a share of those sought was lower (average of 6 %, compared to an average of 43 % for fruit and vegetables).

The percentage of samples without residues was considerably higher in cereals (75 %) than in fresh fruit and vegetables (55%). Consequently, the percentage of samples with residues at or below the (Maximum Residue Level) MRL and exceeding the MRL was lower in cereals at 24 % and 0.9 %, respectively, compared to 39 % and 5.6 % (respectively) in fruit and vegetables.

Residues around the MRL were found most often in
  • grapes (57 %)
  • peppers  (34 %),
  • cucumber (24 %)
  • wheat (22%).

MRLs (including national or EC-MRLs) were exceeded most often in
  • peppers (6 %)
  • grapes (5 %)
  • cucumber (3 %)
  • aubergines (3 %). 

Samples with multiple residues
 Residues of more than one pesticide were found in about 20 % of the analysed vegetable and cereal samples. In most of these cases, (10 %), residues of two pesticides were found, while 5 % of samples contained residues of three pesticides. The percentage of samples with four or more residues was with 5.6% higher than in previous years.
In the samples taken in the Netherlands 33,7% multiple residues were detected, in the German samples 32% multiple residues (up to 8 and more) were detected

The most often detected pesticide (% of all samples analysed for the substance):
  • procymidone (11 %), fungicide, suspected endocrine disrupter
  • maneb group (10 %), fungicide, carcinogen, developmental or reproductive toxin, suspected endocrine disruptor).
  • iprodione (5.9 %), fungicide, suspected endocrine disrupter
  • chlorpyriphos (5.5 %), insecticide, cholinesterase inhibitor, suspected endocrine disruptor
  • endosulfan (5 %), insecticide, acute toxic, suspected endocrine disruptor
  • benomyl group (4.5 %), fungicide, possible carcinogen, developmental or reproductive toxin, suspected endocrine disruptor.

Another group of pesticides had percentages varying from 1 % to under 4 %, among them pirimiphos-methyl (3.9 %), azoxystrobin (3.5 %), methomyl (2.4 %), methamidophos (2 %), chlorpyriphos-methyl (1.8 %), cypermethrin  (1.8 %) malathion (1.8 %) and captan+folpet (1.6 %). For 23frequency of samples with residues corresponded to less than 1 %.

The most important pesticide-commodity combination where detectable residues were found  (including those at or below the MRL and exceeding the MRL) was
maneb-group/cauliflower, where 26.5% of cauliflower samples had residues of this group of pesticides. This is followed by procymidone/grapes (22.4%), procymidone/peppers (17.9%), chlorpyriphos/grapes  (17.3%), endosulfan/peppers (16.5%), iprodione/grapes (16.3%), maneb-group/grapes  (14.3%), vinclozolin/peas (12.1%), pirimiphos-methyl/wheat (11.9%) and pirimiphosmethyl/peppers (10.5%).

Vegetables carry pesticide residues above the required level

Concern of health risks
Because most residue limits are set on the basis of adult bodyweight (70kg), children can consume a disproportionate level of pesticide residues.
There fore exposure assessment for acute risk from the pesticides was investigated in the 2003-coordinated program of the European Union for the products with the highest residues found in a composite sample in the European Union.
At the residue levels found across Europe, a toddler (14,5 kg)) would consume by
table grapes 147% of the health-based acceptable daily level of chlorpyriphos, 334% of Lambda-cyhalothrin, ten times over of the acceptable level of methomyl (1035%)
By the consume of weet peppers 164% of methamidophos and 142% of methiocarb, over two times the level of endosulfan and over five times the level of triazophos and by Cucumber four times over the level of oxydemeton-methyl
All these pesticides are known hazardous substances.

Even if these dates are based on the worse case, it should be taken in consideration that the sum of the total daily intake of residues and the health effects of the intake of multiple residues are not included in this exposure assessment for acute risks.
The long-term risks and synergistic effects of multiple pesticide intake, in particular for foetus and babies and children are very poor investigated.

Due to the weak EU policy on authorization and use of pesticides and their acceptance of pesticide residues in food, the producers are allowed to provide the consumers with products, which are contaminated with hazardous substances.