Checks on fruit miss pesticide, study shows

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The Independent Online
Fruit contaminated by insecticide is in danger of remaining undetected because Government checks are not stringent or accurate enough, a leading academic claims.

Apples and peaches are among fruits that could contain worrying levels of organophosphate pesticide, a chemical used to protect crops. Over- exposure to it has been linked to serious illness, including nerve damage, birth defects and cancer.

John Wargo, Professor of Risk Analysis and Environmental Policy at Yale University, studied the Ministry of Agriculture tests on foods treated with organophosphate (OP) pesticides.

In a World in Action documentary, due to be screened tomorrow night, he says: "They cannot conclude the food supply is safe. In fact, they found a significant number of OP residues in the food supply, on the foods that children consume at high levels. The Government... needs to conduct much more accurate and substantial testing of the food supply."

Young children are particularly vulnerable because they tend, proportionately, to eat and drink more fresh fruit and juice than adults. They are also at greater risk because of their smaller size and because their nerve cells are still developing.

In l995, the Government recommended that carrots should be tailed and peeled for young children because high OP residues had been found in some tests. It now advises that apples should also be peeled for children.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on average tests just 73 samples of apples, 49 samples of pears and 72 samples of carrots each year for pesticide residues. Professor Wargo claims this is not enough and that the British checking system "is one of the least protective in the European Union". World in Action claims there is inordinate secrecy surrounding the licensing of OPs. This extends to committees which assess their safety.

Richard Lacey, Professor of Microbiology at Leeds University, said: "The main experience I had in four years on the Veterinary Products Committee was that the secrecy enabled members to be manipulated to support the interests of the big chemical manufacturers.

"There was no independent monitoring, and we believe that with many products we had selected data. That is, we were given information that was very favourable to the product, and if it was bad we were protected from seeing it."