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France one of EU’s worst culprits for pesticide-grown fruit and veg

The amount of fruit and veg in Europe with traces of dangerous pesticides has increased ‘dramatically’ since 2011, a network of NGOs claims

A new report claims that more fruit and vegetables produced in the EU contain traces of dangerous pesticides today compared to 10 years ago Pic: elena_prosvirova / Shutterstock

The proportion of fruit and vegetables produced in the European Union that is contaminated with “the most hazardous pesticides” has increased “dramatically” in the past 10 years, with France one of the worst culprits, a new report shows.

The report, titled Forbidden Fruit and published today (May 24), was put together by Pesticides Action Network Europe (Pan Europe), a network of NGOs dedicated to promoting sustainable alternatives to pesticides. 

It sampled 210,260 fruit and vegetable products produced in the EU (not including imports) between 2011 and 2019, the last year for which data was available for the study.

Pan Europe claims that in 2011, 18% of fruits produced in the EU were contaminated with the most dangerous pesticides known as “candidates for substitution”. This percentage increased to 29% by 2019. 

It also shows that France was in the top three EU countries for producing fruit and vegetable products with the “highest frequency of pesticide contamination”. 

It was behind Belgium, which produced 34% of these products and Ireland (26%). France produced 22% of these products. 

France was also the EU country that produced the most peaches and spinach contaminated with the highest levels of “candidates for substitution”. 

On an EU-level, half of all cherries sampled for the report were contaminated with pesticides in 2019, compared to 22% in 2011. 

France came third in this category, with 63% of the cherry samples tested from France containing candidates for substitution. This was only less than Greece (64%) and Spain (74%).

EU-wide, the percentage of fruits containing at least two of the most toxic pesticides also increased from 6.4% in 2011 to 10.2% in 2019. 

Salomé Roynel, a campaigner at PAN Europe, said in a press release that “these chemicals should disappear from our food”. 

“Instead, we have observed a dramatic increase in exposure to these most toxic substances over the last ten years,” she said. 

“The proportion of fruits and vegetables contaminated with these pesticides continues to rise. Often the food shows multiple residues of two or more of these toxic substances at the same time.”

Contrast to the EU’s own reports

These claims are in contrast to the European Commission’s own findings, which last year stated that there had been a 12% overall reduction in the use of more hazardous pesticides in the EU in 2019 compared to the 2015 - 2017 period. 

The EU is aiming to reduce the "overall use and risk" of chemical pesticides by 50% and the use of more hazardous pesticides by the same amount by 2030, under its Farm to Fork strategy. 

Since 2011, EU member states are legally bound to substitute the most harmful pesticides with alternative products. 

Pan Europe says that the reason for the discrepancy between its figures and the EU’s is that the EU relies on data on the sales of pesticides to form estimates about its usage. 

Pan Europe based its report on samples of fruit and vegetables, looking at the quantity of Candidates for Substitution that are found in food. 

The organisation’s report does not stipulate the levels of pesticides in each sample, only if pesticides were found. It means that it is not known if the levels of pesticides in the fruit and vegetables samples exceeded limits set by health authorities. 

Pan Europe has said that even very low amounts of the most dangerous pesticides can have negative health effects. 

French medical research centre Inserm has reported a link between occupational exposure (meaning frequent, in a professional capacity) to pesticides and four diseases: non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL), multiple myeloma, prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease. 

Pan Europe plans new campaign 

Pan Europe is planning to launch a new campaign to raise awareness of pesticide use in the EU that will be carried out over the next few months. 

It will run in several EU countries, including France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. 

The group has made the following demands:

  • Member States must immediately ban the 12 most toxic candidates for substitution. 
  • Member States must start banning all pesticide products containing candidates for substitution and have to report on their progress to the European Commission and the public.
  • The European Commission must ensure that the substitution guidelines are being  independently reviewed by the end of 2022 to favour non-chemical alternatives and to shift away from the current pesticide-intensive agricultural system.
  • The European Commission must put an end to continuous extensions of approval of these toxic substances from today. 
  • The European Commission must adopt a zero-residue policy in food by 2035: the legal pesticide residue limits for these substances should be lowered to the lowest levels

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