PFAS pesticides also in UK food

Many common food items contain PFAS pesticides. We recently revealed this in our Toxic Harvest report. Our member, Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) now analysed the results from the UK government’s residue testing programme. They identified 10 different PFAS pesticides in fruits and vegetables including grapes, cherries, spinach and tomatoes. Strawberries were found to be the worst offenders, with 95% of the 120 samples tested by the government in 2022 containing PFAS pesticides.

PFAS have been branded as ‘forever chemicals’ because of their ability to persist in the environment. They can accumulate in the blood, bones and tissue of living organisms, including humans. Estimates of the time it takes PFAS to fully degrade in the environment range from a decade to over 1,000 years. They are used in household products such as non-stick cookware and packaging, but there are also PFAS Pesticides that make it into human bodies via our diet. 

Produce found to contain PFAS pesticides

Total number of samples tested by the UK government 

Percentage of samples containing PFAS pesticides 

(all rounded down)

Strawberries 120 95%
Grapes 109 61%
Cherries 121 56%
Spinach 96 42%
Tomatoes 96 38%
Peaches/nectarines 97 38%
Cucumber 96 22%
Apricots 97 20%
Beans 96 15%
Spices 72 8%
Cabbage 96 7%
Lettuce 97 7%
Potatoes 145 2%
Apples 96 2%

The results analysed by PAN UK were taken from the latest data from the UK Government’s Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) which tests roughly 2,500 one-kilogram samples of food each year. (1) Food items are taken from the shelves of supermarkets and other food outlets across Great Britain, meaning that all food tested was originally destined to be purchased and eaten by ordinary consumers. 

PAN UK’s findings mirror PAN Europe’s recent research revealing that residues of 31 different PFAS pesticides were detected in European fruits and vegetables between 2011 and 2021. Like the UK, strawberries were found to be the most likely EU-grown produce to contain ‘forever chemicals’ with a high of 37% in 2021. (4\2) However, the situation in the UK is even worse: of the 55 samples of UK-grown strawberries tested in 2022, 91% contained residues of PFAS pesticides.  

PFAS health problems

Despite evidence that PFAS are already present in the majority of people’s blood, there is relatively little research looking into the associated health problems – a situation often used by the government and chemicals industry to delay action. However, peer-reviewed studies have connected PFAS exposure to a range of serious health problems including an increased risk of cancer and decreases in both fertility and the immune system’s ability to fight infections. (3) There is particular concern over childhood exposure since PFAS has also been linked to behavioural changes as well as developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight and accelerated puberty. (4) 

Highly toxic and highly hazardous

There are 25 PFAS pesticides currently in use in the UK, six of which are classified as ‘Highly Hazardous’. The list includes the insecticide lambda-cyhalothrin which, in addition to being a ‘forever chemical’, is highly toxic to both humans and bees. It is also in use in the EU and is one of our ‘Toxic 12’ pesticides that should be banned immediately. (5) 

In 2022, 9,200 kg of lambda-cyhalothrin was applied to 1.69 million hectares of UK land, the equivalent of eleven times the size of Greater London. Farmers are generally unaware that they are spraying ‘forever chemicals’ on their crops because there is no information on the label. 

The Environment Agency does not actively sample rivers for any of the 25 PFAS pesticides currently in use in the UK, so the extent to which these chemicals are running off agricultural fields to contaminate rivers and other water sources remains unknown. 

The Pesticide Action Network is urging the EU and UK governments to urgently ban the PFAS pesticides currently in use and increase support for farmers to help them end their reliance on chemicals and adopt safer and more sustainable alternatives. The members of the network are also echoing health and environment NGOs that are calling to work towards achieving a PFAS-free economy.

Nick Mole, Policy Officer at PAN UK says: “PFAS pesticides are absolutely unnecessary for growing food and are an easily avoidable source of PFAS pollution. Getting rid of them would be a massive win for consumers, farmers and the environment.”

Read further: 

‘Forever chemicals’ detected in UK food, prompting concerns regarding impact on human health

Toxic Harvest: The rise of forever PFAS pesticides in fruit and vegetables in Europe 



(1) All data related to pesticide residues in food is based on PAN UK’s analysis of the UK Government’s Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) latest testing results (2022) which can be downloaded here

The ten PFAS pesticides found in this data were as follows: 

PFAS pesticide active substance 

Type of pesticide 

Found in…

(According to 2022 results of UK government residue testing programme)


Fungicide Grapes, strawberries


Insecticide Spice


Fungicide Cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, spinach


Fungicide Beans, cherries, cucumber, grapes, lettuce, peaches/nectarines, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes


Insecticide Apricots, beans, cabbage, cherries, grapes, lettuce, peaches/nectarines, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes


Insecticide Tomatoes


Insecticide Apples, beans, cabbage, cherries, cucumber, grapes, lettuce, peaches/nectarines, spinach, strawberries


Insecticide Cabbage, cherries, spinach


Fungicide Apples, beans, grapes


Fungicide Apricots, beans, cherries, grapes, peaches/nectarines, strawberries, tomatoes

(2) PAN Europe, “Toxic Harvest The rise of forever PFAS pesticides in fruit and vegetables in Europe” (2024)

(3) The Lancet, “Forever chemicals: the persistent effects of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances on human health” (2023)

(4) Rapazzo et al, “Exposure to Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances and Health Outcomes in Children”: A Systematic Review of the Epidemiologic Literature” (2017)

(5) Lambda-Cyhalotrin, one of the Toxic 12 pesticides that need to go fast

© Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe), Rue de la Pacification 67, 1000, Brussels, Belgium, Tel. +32 2 318 62 55

Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) gratefully acknowledges the financial support from the European Union, European Commission, DG Environment, LIFE programme. Sole responsibility for this publication lies with the authors and the funders are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.