This week, the European Commission released the latest EU monitoring results of pesticides residues in food showing alarming levels of contamination . At the same time, 18 environmental, health and consumer organisations from 14 different countries in Europe are calling on the discount supermarket chain Lidl to substantially reduce the pesticide contamination in fruit and vegetables sold by the corporation in all its European branches, and to sell organic and Fair Trade products .
The latest results of the coordinated EU monitoring of pesticides residues in products of plant origin show violations of legal pesticides limits and a growing trend in contamination with multiple residues. Even baby food does not escape this trend. While baby food should be residues free, the latest monitoring results show that 2.7% of all samples are contaminated with residues above the legal limit. The results also show that levels of acute risk to children are often exceeded. This means that children might be ingesting more than the tolerated dose of a given pesticide over a period of time, for example more than eight-fold the tolerated dose of methamidophos in lettuce, an organophosphorus insecticide that attacks the nervous system. They might also be ingesting more than eleven-fold and four-fold the tolerated dose of oxydemeton-methyl in lettuce and apples respectively. The latest substance, besides attacking the nervous system, is also toxic to reproduction .
"This monitoring clearly shows that current pesticides policies are failing to address the problem of residues in our food and, most importantly, the potential impact on people's health, particularly vulnerable groups such as children. EU policy makers need to take this warning seriously, along with the emerging environmental health science on the impact of low doses, to overhaul the current EU pesticides legislation on the table." said Genon Jensen, Executive Director of Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).
"Multiple pesticides residues in food and the special sensitivity of children and other vulnerable individuals are two examples of problems not addressed in the current risk assessment procedures of pesticides. Until they are dealt with by adequate policies, consumers will continue to distrust food and fear pesticides residues in conventional food. In Scotland, for example, half of all children are being fed exclusively with organic food and all over Europe the consumption of organic food is increasing" said Sofia Parente, Pesticide Action Network Europe Coordinator.
Lidl came off the worst among leading supermarket chains in a survey of pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables carried out by Greenpeace in Germany at the end of 2005. Early this year Lidl introduced measures to reduce pesticide residues in fresh food sold in Germany, limiting them in fresh produce to one-third of the current maximum limits in Germany. A further step undertaken by Lidl in Germany in early October was to conduct a preliminary phase out of conventionally grown grapes because high levels of pesticide residues had been consistently found in this product.
In response to growing consumer concerns about pesticides residues in food  and the hazards posed by pesticides to consumers, farmers and the environment, several supermarket chains all over Europe are already implementing policies to reduce residues and increase the range of organic and Fair Trade products on their shelves. Discount supermarket chains, such as Lidl, should not miss this opportunity to promote pesticide use reduction in the European countries where they operate.
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Notes to editors:
- The latest European monitoring of pesticide residues in food found 4.7% of all samples exceeding the legal threshold of pesticide residues in food and almost half of all samples had detectable levels of pesticide residues. European Commission 2006, Monitoring of pesticide residues in products of plant origin in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein - 2004 results available at http://ec.europa.eu/food/fvo/specialreports/pesticides_index_en.htm
- The open letter to Lidl sent out by environmental, health and consumer organisations can be found at http://www.pan-europe.info
- Pesticide Action Network North America pesticides database available online at: http://www.pesticideinfo.org
- The latest Eurobarometer about EU citizens' general fears about food shows that pesticides residues is their greatest concern. 63% of all those asked are concerned about pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables. European Commission 2006, Special Eurobarometer Risk Issues, February 2006.