Pesticide residues in many foods – organic is the answer

Yesterday, the agri-chemical industry’s New Zealand association Agcarm tried to spin its way out of the fact that almost all of about 600 samples analysed in Safe Food Campaign’s Dirty Dozen 2013 list contained pesticide residues.

The Dirty Dozen

Food in New Zealand more likely to contain pesticide residues ranked according to number of pesticides detected in total samples and percentage with pesticides
Food % with
No. of
Sample size
1. Grapes 98.2 35 56
2. Celery 100 19 51
3. Bok/pak choi 95.7 21 47
4. Nectarines 100.0 15 36
5. Oranges 98.2 16 56
6. Strawberries 100 14 8
7. Spring onion 97.9 15 48
8. Lemons 92 20 50
9. Wheat: bread/all products 87.3 23 150
10. Cucumber 82.1 27 56
11. Pears 100 9 8
12. Broccoli 92.9 10 57

“The latest Dirty Dozen report is unscientific and misrepresents the facts,” said Graeme Peters, chief executive of Agcarm.

Agcarm also said the latest Dirty Dozen ‘mischievously’ puts grapes in number one position, claiming that 98.2 percent of samples had pesticide residues. But those grapes did. Safe Food Campaign was absolutely right. What Agcarm then tried was to tie the percentage of possible residue detections from the most recent results from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) food residue surveillance programme which tested 24 batches of grapes for 59 substances. Agcarm pointed out MPI detected 111 residues across 1,416 possible detections. Less than 10 percent they spin. Agcarm and previously MPI try to use the percentage of chemical detections to confuse the reality that 98.2 percent of the grapes had pesticide residues in them and multiple residues are common.

The truth is Safe Food Campaign found that 98.2 percent of grape samples have pesticide residues. The multi-residue tests include chemicals that may not produce residues or have not even been used, but the fact remains that 98.2 percent of grape samples and most of about 600 fruit and vegetable samples tested contained pesticide residues.

Certified organic fruit and veges are grown without those same risky pesticides and consistently are residue free.

Agcarm then point to MPI’s maximum residue levels (MRLs) and state, “None of the detections was a breach of the extremely low maximum residue limits which are linked to good agricultural practice.” On the grapes they are no doubt correct with each residue below the MRL set by MPI at a level that farmers may manage to grow crops with chemicals and still sell them as theoretically safe.

But that is where we differ. Many pesticide residues are being shown up as not safe at levels below the set MRL and certainly multi-residues (the cocktail effect) are not taken into account even though research has shown that chemicals in a mix can be more toxic than on their own. For example, the herbicide Roundup’s principal ingredient glyphosate had its MRL adjusted up 200 times to 20mg/kg to fit with GE crops actually being sprayed with the herbicide. Another common pesticide, chlorothalinol (Bravo), a fungicide, is well-known for apparent synergistic effects with other common pesticides causing negative effects on health.

Organic production is the way forward because it reduces pesticide residue health risks, is better for the environment, and because people want it. Who wants chemical residues in their food?

This week the French government announced that by 2020 pesticide use would be forbidden for many non-agricultural uses such as home gardens, green spaces, forests and walks open to the public. Usefully they intend allowing bio-control methods, products used in organic farming and some low risk products and pesticides for biosecurity issues. Unfortunately they still will allow exceptions such as for railways, runways and motorways, but have strong penalties for breaches elsewhere. Agricultural use remains and organics is still the consumer solution until there are substantive changes.

What the French and other progressive governments with pesticide reduction strategies recognise is that these chemicals cause harm to people and the environment. This was a Green Party victory for Senator Joel Labbé who presented the law and for years has along with community organisations fought against pesticides. He achieved cross Parliament support except for one party.

3 Comments Posted

  1. Christian J
    Walk them to their spray stores, take a glass with you… pour it…. then come back and let us know if they took even a sip.

  2. We’re surrounded by apple and peach orchards (Hawkes Bay) and they spray probably 30 to 40 time a year. We have almost no insects, just ants and bumble bees.

    I’m just wondering what they do to humans?

    They always tell us you can drink what they spray… – probably good sales men?

  3. Damn.. I was wondering why my celery always tastes odd.

    Thing is, we go organic and we’re not going to have pretty produce, nor as large an exportable surplus (if any) of food. The market garden becomes more cost effective for all of us too.

    Which would be bad for NZ Inc., and the board of directors (oops, the Cabinet), would object to anything like that. 🙂

    I live in hope that there is a hell waiting for them. It is one of the great downsides to atheism that it isn’t that great a hope 🙂

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