UK tests for pesticides in food 'weak'

A A A

The head of a national food safety body has admitted that Britain's system for testing whether food contains potentially toxic pesticides is too weak and needs a major overhaul.

The admission by Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the Government's Pesticides Residues Committee, follows damning criticism of the UK's policies on testing from European Commission health experts.

The criticisms included the revelation that Britain's safety authorities – the Food Standards Agency and the Pesticides Safety Directorate – have the lowest annual rate of food testing of any European country, at only three samples per 100,000 people. Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Sweden test between 2,743 and 8,320 food samples every year, compared to just 1,575 in the UK.

In one highly critical report, the Commission also accused the UK of breaching EU rules on testing; of failing to take enforcement action against retailers and suppliers who sell contaminated produce; and of failing to act quickly enough to remove contaminated produce off the shelves.

Although Britain tests for a wider range of pesticides than most other EU countries, it often only tests a handful of samples every few years yet regularly finds food which breaks pesticide safety limits. In 2000, only 50 carrots were tested, even though one sample was so contaminated by an organophosphate that it broke safety limits for toddlers. Friends of the Earth claims the UK tests only one banana in 100 million for pesticides.

Dr Brown said he accepted many of the criticisms, and called on the Government to increase the meagre £2m budget for food testing. The UK's testing regime was neither "broad enough or deep enough," he said.

"We need to analyse more samples and we need to target our sampling to make it appropriate to our diet."

Dr Brown, an expert in toxicology and occupational health at Southampton University Hospital, said adults were very unlikely to be exposed to risky levels of pesticide residues in food. But there was "cause for concern" about the threat to young children.

He said was he "particularly worried" about the potential risks where food was contaminated by several similar chemicals, such as different forms of heavily restricted organophosphate pesticide, which could combine to create a "cocktail effect".

His committee is expected to press ministers this summer to agree to a tougher and larger testing regime. The time lag between testing and publicising the results, which can currently take up to three months, also needed to be cut dramatically, he said.

Suggested Topics
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower