“We are choosing to play Russian roulette with people’s health”
2 Nov 2022
Official figures reveal that the proportion of bread in the UK containing two or more pesticides has doubled to more than 50% in the past year.
The UK government tests are carried out by an expert committee on pesticide residues in food (Prif) and a total of 11 different pesticides, including five with links to cancer (glyphosate, fosetyl, cypermethrin, deltamethrin and flonicamid), were found in a range of bread products – from standard white, brown, to crumpets, scones and muffins.
Bread products containing traces of one or multiple pesticides were found in supermarket own-brands including Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. They were also found in some top brands: Hovis, Kingsmill, Jacksons, La Boulangerie, New York Bakery, Warburtons, and many more.
Nick Mole, Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) policy officer, said:
“With the cost of living crisis forcing people to spend less on food, it’s vital that consumers can trust that relatively cheap products like bread won’t expose them to dangerous mixtures of chemicals.
The government claims that it’s committed to tackling pesticides, so why have pesticide cocktails been allowed to double in a staple food that most of us eat at least once every day?”
Pesticides used in agriculture can leave traces of chemicals in our food known as residues. Pesticide residues detected on a specific food item will depend on which pesticides are used and how persistent they are. Some food may contain one single residue or multiple ones (‘cocktail effect’).
“There is a growing body of evidence showing that pesticides can become more harmful when they’re combined with each other. And yet we continue to set safety limits for just one chemical at a time.
We actually have no idea of the long-term impacts of consuming tiny amounts of hundreds of different chemicals. We are choosing to play Russian roulette with people’s health”, mentioned Mole.
We should be aware of the implications caused by ingesting food containing not only one but also multiple pesticides, especially if consumed over a long period of time, during our childhood, adult life and especially during pregnancy.
Some pesticides, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), have the potential to disrupt our hormone systems, and can play a role in the development of cancers, including colorectal and breast cancers. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as young children, are particularly vulnerable.
The most recent data published by the UK government, which relates to testing conducted in 2021, reveals that pesticide cocktails are also a significant problem for fruit and vegetables, with 30% of vegetables and more than 60% of fruit found to contain residues of more than one chemical.
Based on government data, PAN UK launched its annual “Dirty Dozen”, a list of fruit and vegetables most likely to be contaminated with multiple pesticides:
PAN UK analysis of the most recent results from the government’s testing programme found a total of 137 different pesticide residues across all produce, including many linked to serious chronic health effects. Specifically, the produce tested contained:
• 46 carcinogens, which are capable of causing different types of cancer.
• 27 endocrine disruptors (EDCs), which can interfere with hormone systems and cause birth defects, developmental and reproductive disorders (infertility).
• 11 ‘developmental or reproductive toxins’, which can have adverse effects on sexual function and fertility, causing miscarriages.
• 14 cholinesterase inhibitors that reduce the ability of nerve cells to pass information to each other and can impair the respiratory system and cause confusion, headaches and weakness.
Over a third of the total pesticides found are not approved in the UK, meaning that the British farmers aren’t permitted to use them.
“These pesticides residues should not be making onto the plate of UK consumers.
They are either slipping past our shoddy border checks unnoticed, or foreign producers are being handed a competitive advantage by being allowed to use pesticides banned in the UK.
At a time when we are asking our own farmers to produce more sustainably, we should not be making it harder for them to earn a living”, said Mole.
The most effective way to tackle pesticide cocktail in our food is to ensure that the new trade agreements don’t lead to an influx of pesticide-laden imports and to reduce dramatically the chemical use in domestic farming.
Weakening of pesticide standards via trade deals with countries where pesticide regulation is less rigorous, means the population in the UK may be consuming products with higher level of pesticides that are already banned in the country.
“To protect the health of their customers, some UK supermarkets are beginning to sit up and take notice of pesticide cocktails. Meanwhile, the government’s key strategy on pesticide reduction is already five years late.
Our new environment secretary, Dr. Thérèse Coffey, must take urgent action to reduce pesticide-related harms. How much longer should consumers and farmers have to wait?” added Mole.
This is a significant ongoing issue that requires immediate attention and action from the government, regulators, corporations, supermarkets and also the British population, who may be paying a hefty price for these senseless actions, with their own health!