A NOP survey of 1,000 consumers released today by the Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo), called into question the government's record on testing for pesticide residues in our food. 76% of consumers in the North of England believe we should be concerned about pesticide levels in foods like milk and butter and nearly 1 in 2 people aren't confident that maximum pesticide residue levels (MRL) set by the government are safe.
Although the amount of pesticides used each year is rising, the Pesticides Residues Committee tests fewer food samples than most European countries. The UK tested just 1,372 food samples in 1999 compared to 8,000 tested by Italy and 6,000 tested by Germany.
The survey also showed that 1 in 2 people were unaware that pesticide residues are found every year in a third of foods tested, including in everyday food such as milk. The Pesticide Residues Committee has found traces of Dieldrin (a pesticide more dangerous than DDT) in milk in June 03, DDT in butter in Jan 02 and Lindane in milk in Jan 01. No residues have been found in organic milk.
Sally Bagenal, OMSCo's Chief Executive says:- "Incredibly, only one sample for every 84 million pints of milk produced in the UK each year is tested for pesticide traces."
Dr Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist at the University of Liverpool, warned,
"The current maximum residue levels do not take into account the effect of our combined daily consumption of environmental chemicals, which include pesticides. Research indicates that the harmful effect of pesticides may be increased when consumed together. This could lead to a number of conditions, including the possibility of cancer. Choosing organic products could help minimize exposure to pesticide residues. This precautionary action is actually the only recourse available to the individual who wants to reduce their own exposure"
Sally Bagenal said:- "We are calling on government to test larger samples, invest in scientific research into the long term combined effect of pesticides on our health, reduce MRLs for foods, and consistently test the most widely consumed food and drink products each year to enable tracking of pesticide
Only consumers of organic produce can be confident that every effort has been made to minimize pesticide residues. Organic farmers do not use synthetic chemical pesticides, compared to the 1,500 pesticides licensed for use by non-organic farmers.
Despite concerns about the impact of pesticide residues on our health, the Pesticides Residues Committee believes:- "We expect that small amounts (residues) will usually turn up in food supplies. They are also expected to turn up in the environment and drinking water"
Sally Bagenal commented:- "Consumers have a right to demand that the Government does everything in its power to protect them from dangerous levels of pesticides in their food. We do not feel that the current programme of testing is adequate or that it gives a realistic picture of the level of different pesticide residues we are exposed to. We would recommend choosing organic staples such as milk to help avoid consumption of these chemicals"