Nearly a third of food and drink products tested by a government watchdog body last year contained traces of pesticides, and in 1.7 per cent of cases the chemical residues exceeded maximum legal limits.
A further 30.2 per cent of the 3,787 items surveyed had pesticide traces within those limits, the Pesticide Residue Committee said yesterday in its annual report. In 2004, only 1.09 per cent of the samples contained pesticide traces above the statutory limits.
The increase was due to more imported exotic fruit and vegetables being tested, the committee said.
Levels of pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables destined for schools as part of the "five-a-day" scheme were broadly similar to those in the general food supply chain, the report said.
Of the 166 samples tested which were destined for schoolchildren, 132 contained chemical traces at or below the maximum permitted levels. Another three of the samples had residues which were above the legal limits.
Items tested in the overall survey included fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry, cereal products, tea, olive oil, fruit juice and infant foods. No residues were found in chicken, eggs, infant formula, kidneys, milk or swede.
The samples of imported and home-produced food were collected from UK shops, markets, ports and wholesale suppliers.
Yesterday's report summarises the findings of 39 surveys carried out in 2005 as part of the committee's monitoring programme.
Ian Brown, the committee's chairman, said most of the pesticide residues were not a cause for health concern among consumers. "I cannot overemphasise the importance of continuing to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day," he said.
"The health benefits far outweigh any concern about pesticide residues."
The Pesticide Residues Committee advises ministers, the Food Standards Agency and the Pesticides Safety Directorate.
The committee has an annual budget of around £2.2m and carries out a continuing programme of food and drink monitoring. The committee publishes its findings every three months and summarises them in annual reports.
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