The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) announced the findings of a report showing that UK-produced apples have been found with high traces of pesticides.
Officials at Maff, dubbed the "Ministry of Incompetence", insisted that apples were safe to eat and the highest residues of pesticides found were still within internationally accepted safety limits. One Maff source said: "It's not mad-apple disease." But the officials added the rider that it was wise to wash fruit before eating.
Research showed that in eating apples, the consumer's diet may include carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, paclobutrazol and triazophos; bananas may carry chlorpyrifos; and malathion, methidathion, and parathion methyl may be found on oranges.
Professor Sir Colin Berry, chairman of the advisory committee on pesticides, said the chance of finding a high residue apple would be less than one in a thousand items of fruit.
The pesticides would have no effect on most people, said the officials. Toddlers and babies might get a reaction but only if they ate two of the "worst case" quarter-pound apples in one day, and they might suffer a bout of "griping stomach". They would be more likely to be sick from apples than from pesticide.