Pests about pesticides

Friends of the Earth is peddling non-stories about unfounded fears.

Jan Bowman

Topics Politics

The UK green organisation Friends of the Earth (FoE) announced on 7 August that: ‘New residue data shows need for pesticide action.’ (1)

Yet the latest report from the UK government’s Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) shows a reduction across the board in the level of pesticide residues in British food (2). Even apples, the fruit most commonly cited by green campaigners to raise alarm about pesticide-poisoned children, showed a decline in toxins.

Of a sample of 252 apples from different sources, only 27 percent contained any residues at all. None contained residues of non-approved pesticides, nor of pesticides in any levels above the Maximum Residue Limits set by Codex – the likely highest residue, based on global figures, that should occur in edible crops.

Good news is much more evident than bad throughout the report. For example, the PRC cites a special survey on carrots conducted in February 2002, following an EU Rapid Alert on Italian carrots with their tops on that contained unacceptably high levels of pesticide. This survey was set up as a quick response to the Alert, but supermarkets reacted even more quickly and took Italian carrots off their shelves.

So the PRC tested Spanish carrots instead. Result – no residues. The PRC goes on to note: ‘These results are reassuring, as the problem identified in the Rapid Alert does not appear to be more widespread, as first thought. Also, it had proved impossible to obtain Italian carrots, indicating the responsible and efficient way in which supermarkets and retail outlets dealt with this problem….’

Despite this encouraging news, Friends of the Earth insists we should still be concerned, and cites the possible ‘cocktail effect’ of accumulated pesticide residues ‘contaminating’ our bodies. ‘We are all carrying dozens of chemicals in our bodies that were not in the bodies of our great-grandparents’, FoE’s website proclaims. Yet we also live far longer, healthier lives than our great-grandparents did, and the level of pesticides in our food has been dropping for years. The introduction of safer pesticides and new technology such as GM holds the promise that this trend will continue.

FoE wants all pesticides banned from British food, period. But at what cost? Pesticides were responsible for most of the increase in crop yields of the twentieth century. Without pesticides, millions of people worldwide would have died of starvation. Even today over 40 percent of the world’s food crops are destroyed by pests and diseases annually.

Despite the alarmist headline, the FoE’s press release is a non-story. It’s just a shame that much of the media took it seriously.

Read on:

Pestering the third world, by Jan Bowman

Unearthing the truth about organic food, by Alex Avery and Dennis Avery

Organic food: why?, by Jan Bowman

(1) FoE press release, 7 August

(2) The Pesticide Residues Committee report is available from the Pesticides Safety Directorate website

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Topics Politics


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