Pesticides in grapes: unsafe, illegal and unauthorised

Largest ever supermarket survey reveals dangerous levels of pesticides in grapes; LIDL is Europe's greenest supermarket

Analysis of table grapes purchased from 18 major food retailers across Europe revealed illegal, unauthorised and unsafe pesticides hidden in grapes on sale to consumers. Ninety nine percent of grapes contained pesticides. On average seven pesticides were detected per sample. One third of grapes were classified as 'Not Recommended' for consumers owing to critical levels of pesticide contamination.

The study found six grape samples with pesticides above EU maximum legal limits, as well as two Italian grown samples containing a banned pesticide. Grapes bought from food wholesaler Metro in Germany contained a carcinogenic pesticide at twice the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) established by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and the World Health Organisation. Dietary exposure to pesticides at such high levels poses an acute health risk to young children.

"Our survey of 124 samples of grapes bought from leading supermarkets in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary identified 64 different pesticides - many with links to cancer, infertility, nerve damage, hormonal disruption and DNA mutations", said Elliott Cannell, a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network. "That's a very dangerous cocktail. Pesticides like these simply shouldn't be sprayed on foods sold to consumers."

Despite widespread pesticide contamination some supermarkets performed much better than others. "The best grapes were sold by LIDL - the German discount retailer, which beat leading quality brands such as Carrefour in France and Albert Heijn in the Netherlands. LIDL's success is really exciting because it proves consumers can have higher standards at lower prices."

"By switching to LIDL consumers in France, Germany and Netherlands could substantially reduce their dietary exposure to pesticides. Shoppers should also pay attention to the country of origin. Grapes grown in Greece and Spain were much better than samples grown in Italy or imported from Turkey."

"Consumers have a right to foods free of pesticides. In the immediate term, supermarkets should eliminate the most hazardous pesticides from use in food production and avoid foods with multiple pesticides. Retailers should also make a long term commitment to eliminate all other pesticides from fruits and vegetables in less than 10 years by introducing more stringent and transparent pesticide policies."

Results of the study were published the day before experts convene in Paris for high level talks led by the French Presidency to discuss plans for tougher EU legislation on pesticides.

Media contact
Elliott Cannell, Coordinator, PAN Europe
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7065 0920

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Notes to editors
Immediate danger to consumer health
Grapes sold by food wholesaler Metro in Germany contained a carcinogenic fungicide at levels high enough to pose an acute health risk to young children according to health standards established by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and World Health Organisation.

Above EU maximum legal limits
Six grape samples contained pesticides at concentrations above EU maximum legal limits. These were purchased from Auchan, Carrefour and ALDI in France, from Esselunga in Italy, and from the wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Hamburg, Germany (Großmarkt Hamburg).

Illegal pesticides
Two samples of Italian-grown grapes contained the banned insecticide endosulfan. Use of endosulfan has been illegal since 31 December 2007 following the announcement of an EU-wide ban in 2005. Both samples of affected grapes were purchased from ALDI in France.

One third 'Not Recommended'
In total 38 of the 124 grape samples (30.6%) received 'Not Recommended' status according to evaluation protocols pioneered by Greenpeace. The Greenpeace system takes into account residue levels exceeding the maximum residue levels, the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD), and the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), as well as multiple exposure and the special sensitivity of children.

Imported grapes are worse
Imported grapes were on average more contaminated than those grown in the EU. Over 50% of grapes from Turkey received 'Not Recommended' status. Fewer than 20% of grapes from Greece and Spain had same rating. With 38% 'Not Recommended' ratings, grapes grown in Italy showed the worst contamination from the European producing countries.

Impact of lower EU food standards
In September 2008, the European Union adopted legislation which raised many of the maximum legal limits on the concentrations of pesticides allowed in foods. Had these grapes been sold to consumers in 2005, not six but 37 samples would have exceeded legal limits on pesticides. These figures demonstrate the dramatic relaxation in EU food standards over the past three years.

Highest ever levels of pesticides
Fruits, vegetables and cereals sold throughout the European Union contain record levels of pesticides - according to an official EU report scheduled for publication later this year. Almost half of fruits, vegetables and cereals are now contaminated with pesticides - a substantial increase on the level seen just 5 years ago.

Authors of the study
The analysis of 124 grape samples from leading supermarkets was conducted by six European environmental organisations: Greenpeace (Germany), Milieudefensie (Netherlands), MDRGF (France), Legambiente (Italy), Levego Munkacsoport (Hungary) and Pesticide Action Network (Europe). All grape samples were analysed by the same fully accredited laboratory specialising in pesticide residue analysis.

© 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.