Letter: Ministry slips on apple skin

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Sir: For some time now I have been washing fruit before feeding it to my seven-year-old son, believing that this would remove the pesticide residue on the skin. I had heard that the Ministry of Agriculture suggest this as a precaution.

Sparked by recent reports of pesticide levels six times above the recommended minimum being found in apples, I rang the ministry to check that I was washing thoroughly enough. The young press officer was vague: "Well, you just run them under the tap, give them a rinse." Irritated by his casualness I pushed further, demanding to know exactly how thoroughly to wash the fruit and on what basis of research it was shown that this would have an effect. "I'll have to get back to you," he said.

Two days later came back the reply: "Sorry, it makes no difference whatsoever. You can't wash pesticide off fruit because it is absorbed into the skin. Peeling is the only solution." I was shocked, as I'm sure many other parents will be, and felt misled by the ministry's advice to wash fruit.

Pesticides are tasteless - that's the fundamental problem. With North Sea Gas, which is odourless, they add a compound so that you can smell it if there's a leak. Surely we could do the same with pesticides, so that above a certain residue level you could taste the stuff. The consumers would then regulate the industry more effectively and cheaply than any government department could ever do.