Other items making the list of the 12 most polluted products, being dubbed “the dirty dozen”, include pears, beans (dried and fresh), okra, lettuce, carrots and mango.
These foods contained traces of a total of 122 different pesticides.
Researchers found that 80 per cent of grapes, herbs and oranges tested contained more than one pesticide and just one-kilogram sample of sultanas contained 25 different chemicals.
Of the 122 chemicals identified, 61 per cent are classed as “highly hazardous” by the UN, PAN said. Additionally, 47 have links to cancer and 15 contain “reproduction or developmental toxins” that can have an adverse effect on sexual function and fertility.
Nick Mole from PAN UK said the figures highlight that we are exposed to “a wide array of chemicals” through our diets.
“While safety limits continue to be set for just one pesticide at a time, the evidence is growing that chemicals can combine to be more toxic, a phenomenon known as the cocktail effect,” he said.
Positively, the government’s data suggests that there has been a drop in the overall percentage of fruit and vegetables containing more than one pesticide – from 48 per cent in 2019 to 30 per cent in 2020.
But PAN said the latest report “calls into question the robustness of the UK system designed to protect consumers from exposure to unsafe levels of pesticides”.
This is because only three of the 12 types of fruit and vegetables identified on PAN’s “dirty dozen” list in 2019 were tested in 2020.
“The UK government only tests around 3,000 samples of food for pesticides each year”, Mole said.
“They justify this by arguing that it’s unnecessary to test more because they run a risk-based system which focuses on food items which are most likely to pose a threat. But actually, they have failed to test three-quarters of last year’s produce of concern.”
PAN has called on the government to expand its residue testing programme and to fund research into the effect of pesticides in food on human health.
“Consumers presume that their food has been through rigorous testing and that if an item is available for sale in the UK then it must be safe. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case.
“We actually have very limited understanding of the long-term impacts to human health of consuming small amounts of tens of different pesticides every day of our lives,” Mole said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told The Independent: “All food sold in the UK must meet strict rules on pesticide residue to ensure it is safe to eat.
“These are enforced via a comprehensive residues monitoring programme overseen by an independent specialist body and in 2020 more than 97% of tested samples were compliant.
“However we continue to encourage a move away from chemical pest control, and recently consulted on a national action plan which aims to minimise the impacts of pesticides and increase the uptake of safer alternatives.”
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