Toxic Food in the European Parliament

Brussels 10th October 2007 - Today in the European Parliament, Brussels, the Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN-E) and Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) will present the shocking findings of an analysis into pesticides found on fruit purchased within the Parliament building.

In July 2007 PAN-E and Milieudefensie purchased eight fruit items from the GB Express supermarket in the European Parliament building (Brussels) and analysed them for the presence of pesticide residues. All the fruit was found to have pesticide residues and a total of 28 different potentially toxic chemical substances were found on the samples. Amongst the chemicals found were; ten known carcinogens, three neurotoxins, three developmental toxins, and eight suspected endocrine disruptors. Two of contaminants are classified as being 'Highly Hazardous' by the World Health Organisation.

Three of the eight food samples analyzed (apricot, grapes, orange) contained pesticide residues in excess of EC Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) - thus rendering their sale illegal. The apricot contained excessive levels of a suspected endocrine disruptor, one bunch grapes showed illegal amounts of a known carcinogen, and the oranges were contaminated with elevated concentrations of two different pesticides, both linked with cancer and reproductive or developmental toxicity.

The Belgian-grown strawberries contained a staggering 14 different pesticide residues, of which five are known carcinogens. The oranges, grown in Spain, contained the toxic pesticide imazalil at levels substantially above the 'Acceptable Daily Intake' for a five year old child.

"These findings represent a total indictment of food products on sale in the EU," said Elliott Cannell, a spokesperson for PAN-E. "Most of these fruit items were grown here too. All eight pieces of fruit that we tested contained toxic substances that simply shouldn't be in the European food chain."

According to figures published by the European Commission, 40% of fruit and vegetable items on sale in the EU are contaminated with pesticide residues - with one food item in 30 containing levels of pesticides above European legal limits. "3%of EU food products contain pesticide residues above what is suspected to be harmless in the longer term", said Dr Ludo Holsbeek, an Ecotoxicologist from the Vrije Universiteit Brussels.

The presence of high levels of pesticide residues in food grown in the EU is a direct result of reliance on pesticides in EU agriculture. Every year over 200,000 tons of pesticides are released into the European environment. Many of these chemicals, and in particular insecticides, harm not only the pest species they are intended to control, but have the potential to cause substantial damage to human health. Over the past decade the EU's consumption of insecticides has more than doubled. All of the EU's top 10 insecticides are classified as hazardous.

"The root cause of food contamination is very simple," said Cannell. "We spray excessive quantities of toxic chemicals onto our food as it's growing in the field. So it's no wonder that many of these substances end up on our dining tables".

At the end of October, the European Parliament will vote on new legislation regarding the authorisation, sale and use of hazardous pesticides in the EU. "Our politicians have a once in a generation opportunity to introduce strategies aimed at reducing the use of hazardous pesticides in the European Union", said Wouter van Eck, a spokesperson for Milieudefensie. "The results of our investigation are shocking. The upcoming EU pesticide legislation must contain stringent measures to better protect public health and the environment".

To coincide with the release of the findings of the fruit analysis, a coalition of environmental and health organisations are launching the website on which the voting behaviour of all members of European Parliament will be publicised. European citizens can use this website to call on Members of the European Parliament to vote for a ban on hazardous pesticides and for better protection of vulnerable groups like pregnant women, babies, children and the elderly.

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Notes to editors:

  • Interviews are available on request
  • A full report, ‘Hazardous Pesticides in the European Parliament’, is available in electronic or hard copy format on the day
  • Most of the food items tested were produced in the European Union (EU). The strawberries were grown in Belgium, the oranges were from Spain, two bunches of grapes were from Italy, and both the apple and the pear were grown in France. One bunch of grapes was grown in Egypt. The origin of the apricots was unspecified
  • In 2006 the European Commission published a survey of EU citizens’ concerns relating to food safety. The report found that the presence of pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables is the top food safety concern of EU citizens
  • GB Express supermarket in the European Parliament building is part of the GB Express supermarket chain, which belongs to Carrefour Belgium, the largest Belgian trader with 560 supermarkets throughout Belgium. Carrefour Belgium is part of the Carrefour Group, Europe’s biggest distributor, operating over 12,500 stores worldwide, either company-operated or franchises. Within this figure, Carrefour’s European portfolio includes 638 hypermarkets, 4450 hard discount stores, 2,508 supermarkets and 3,154 convenience stores
  • All chemical analyses were conducted by TNO Analytical Research Department, Zeist, Netherlands; a scientific institute with ISO-1725 accreditation
  • Of the 60,450 food samples included within the European Commission’s 2006 pesticides monitoring report, 40% were shown to contain pesticide residues, with an additional 3% containing levels in excess of EC MRLs. In total some 324 different pesticides were identified within the EU food chain, with some items containing as many as 8 different contaminants. Even baby foods showed significant levels of pesticide residues
  • Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides exposure as they absorb a larger intake of pesticide residues in what they eat than do adults. Pregnant and nursing women are also at higher risk given the physiological burden of supporting their developing children. In addition the elderly, the sick, and those on medication may be more susceptible to pesticides where their bodies’ protective responses are already compromised
  • PAN Europe is a network of over 50 consumer, public health and environmental organisations, trade unions, women's groups, development and sustainable farming groups and farmer associations
  • Milieudefensie are a national organisation, aimed at promoting a sustainable and healthy environment. It has approximately 80 local groups and more than 90,000 members and supporters
  • The 28 pesticides and their Human Health Impacts (pdf)

© 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.