Pest sprays take gloss off fruit and veg
Last week it was revealed that inspectors had
found that some Irish fruit and vegetables
to 10 times above the permitted EU levels for
pesticides. If you are selecting produce at
and veg section in your local supermarket, how
worried should you be? Martina Devlin reports.
The revelation last week that some samples of
and vegetables taken in shops and supermarkets
here had up to 10 times above the permitted EU
levels for pesticides is truly shocking.
By now we are all aware of the possible dangers
from anti-biotic residues in milk or growth
residues in meat and a small army of
employed to protect us from thses dangers. Many
people have stopped or cut down on eating meat
because of these fears.
But most of us have assumed that fruit and
relatively safe. Now we know that we must be
vigilant about these foods as well. Because
of our fruit and veg is imported from countries
which have different standards from our own, we
may need to be extra vigilant. And after last
revelations from the Department of Agriculture,
there is reason for us to be concerned.
An additional worry is that for the whole
there are just four full-time lab testers to
food we eat for pesticide contamination.
narrow dam of four people standing between the
Irish consumer and produce which may have been
over-sprayed, or harvested too soon after
or sprayed with pesticide not recommended for
It's a mammoth task for the Pesticide Control
Service, the government body charged with
sampling both home-produced and imported meat,
milk, grains, fruit and vegetables for
Until its latest report which discovered Irish
raspberries with 10 times more than accepted
of pesticide residue and Irish lettuces with
times more than EU limits most people believed
home-produced fruit and vegetables were
Indeed, as beef, chicken, eggs and milk came
the spotlight, we consoled ourselves that at
couldn't go far wrong with fruit and veg. But
out we've lulled ourselves into a false sense of
Rogue elements weren't just found in domestic
produce Spanish clementines and Turkish lemons
also exceeded agreed pesticide residue
Pesticide Control Service report revealed.
insisted that consumers' health would only
the contaminated item was eaten daily over a
Which is reassuring up to a point. The bottom
that we all want to feel confident that the
lift off supermarket shelves is safe to eat.
But unless we buy organically produced food, we
have to accept that the produce going into our
trolleys has been treated with chemicals
to zap aphids, to stop fungicide, to kill
Some growers spray every month in the summer,
others are being introduced to an integrated
whereby they spray only when insects are laying
In theory, most of us would like to eat
produced food; in reality we tend to steer away
from it either because it's more expensive or
because it's knobbly, dirty and doesn't look as
appealing as the chemically grown alternative.
Shoppers tend to judge by appearances and favour
peppers that are shiny and green, or tomatoes
are round and red, which could be why the
market is said to be worth less than one per
Some fruit and veg are more susceptible to
traces of pesticides than others for example
and citrus fruits. People are not advised to
eating them, but to scrape, top and tail carrots
thoroughly and to think twice about using
in cooking or marmalade.
Salads and fruit that's eaten raw should also be
treated carefully - scrubbed thoroughly
instead of a
cursory dip under the water tap and peeled where
Dublin firm Donnellys, which supplies
does not solely rely on government reports
two full time members of staff sampling its own
growers' fruit and vegetables, in a
It knows exactly when its fruit and veg are
and for what. For example its early crop tunnel
raspberries, grown in Co Meath, were sprayed
twice for fungus, while the later crop of
raspberries were combination sprayed once for
insect and disease in March, sprayed once
April for fungus, in May for greenfly - and
depending on how wet it is, they may need
Carrots were sprayed twice last year for
and twice for weeds; lettuce was sprayed once
weeds, twice for aphids and once for
tomatoes were sprayed once with an insecticide,
once for aphids, and once for fungicide. However
growers are encouraged to use predators to
the aphids - the biological method - where
``We have total traceability of all our Irish
growers,`` said Donnellys' quality controller
``I have all their spray details on computer,
them and take samples for pesticide residues.
have ever exceed the maximum residue levels.
``We have more than 30 Irish growers, they only
supply us and they know we take samples. If we
ever felt they were exceeding levels they
delisted. We check which pesticides they use
they are approved for that product, from a
Department of Agriculture list.
``They have to send us the dates they spray, how
much they use and why they use it. Our growers
know they are going to be spot-checked so
in their interests to be caught out.''
Some other Irish growers do overspray, according
to Ms Kennelly, under the misapprehension that a
double dosage will be twice as effective. Others
employ the same pesticide for raspberries as is
used for strawberries although it hasn't been
approved, the error highlighted in last week's
government body report.
However a problem for growers is that customers
expect perfection: ``Everyone wants turnips the
same size and all their fruit and vegetables
exactly the same, off a production line. But
naturally grown products and you don't have a
template,'' she said.
Consumers are even showing a preference for
pre-packaged fruit because it looks more
although it's more expensive and a waste of
Consumers' Association senior researcher Garvan
Grant suggested that supermarkets could label
products chemically grown, so that shoppers
exactly what they're buying.
However Ms Kennelly predicted this will scare
people away: ``Most things are treated
apart from organic produce. But the use of
chemicals has been significantly reduced.''
According to Mr Grant, no-one knows what
impact chemicals will have on our health over a
prolonged period. In addition, vulnerable groups
such as old people and babies may be at risk.
``We don't know what damage could be caused
over 20 or 30 years and we don't know if the
combination of chemicals may be harmful,`` he
The association is calling on the government to
increase funding to the Pesticide Control
``They can only test a small amount,`` he
Dan O'Sullivan, in charge of the Pesticide
Service laboratories, said his team analysed 383
samples of domestic and imported fruit and
vegetables last year - which did not account for
every shipment that entered Ireland.
But he pointed out that EU safety levels
imported fruit and veg from outside the
``When something unusual turns up there's a
mechanism whereby different countries are
There's a pretty good network whereby if there's
something fishy going on in a country, the
around quickly,`` explained Mr O'Sullivan.
In addition, he said, the random sampling
concentrate on fruit and veg that might be more
liable to contamination, for example carrots and
citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons and melons
although the latter are generally peeled
Declan O'Brien, director of the Animal and Plant
Health Association (representing pesticides)
that contamination could happen during
and packaging rather than in the growing
But he insisted: ``The overall picture in
is good. People home in in the problem areas but
the Irish fruit and veg market can hold its
People are getting high quality products with
``The maximum residue level allowed is a very
conservative number with built-in safety
Going over it won't affect your health.
That's not a
justification, but people can be assured they
going to be sick from eating that produce.''
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