UK government slammed over pesticides in school food

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Vegetable Organic food Nutrition

The UK's Soil Association has slammed the government for its
'complacent' claim that pesticides found in school fruit and
vegetables are 'broadly similar' to those found in supermarkets.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said the Pesticides Residues Committee claim, contained in the committee's annual report, was wrong.

"Once again the government committee that looks for pesticides in food, has claimed the pesticides found in the school fruit and vegetable scheme are 'broadly similar' to fruit and vegetables you would buy in the supermarket,"​ he said.

"In fact, in the fruit where direct comparisons can be made - with apples and pears - just under 80 per cent of supermarket fruit contained pesticides compared to a staggering 95 per cent of apples and pears destined for schools."

Melchett said that despite around 15 to 20 per cent more of the school fruit and vegetable samples containing pesticides, the Pesticides Residues Committee insisted that there was no real difference.

"They justify this by suggesting that pesticides found in food under what they term Maximum Residue Levels, simply doesn't count and can be ignored. The Soil Association thinks most parents disagree with this extraordinarily complacent and unscientific view."

Similar results in last year's Pesticide Residues Committee annual report prompted the Soil Association to urge the government, as part of its reform of school meals generally, to end the artificial, 'cosmetic' standards for blemish-free school fruit and vegetables and increase the use of organic fruit and vegetables.

The increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is a goal shared by the government, and the Pesticide Residues Committee was keen this year to underline the importance of adopting healthier dietary habits.

"I cannot overemphasise the importance of continuing to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day,"​ said Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the committee. "The health benefits far outweigh any concern about pesticide residues."

The Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) published its annual report last month. The results of the 2005 monitoring programme showed that in 68.1 per cent of the food sampled, no pesticide residues were found.

However, 1.7 per cent of samples contained residues above the permitted maximum levels. These were mostly in imported exotic fruit and vegetables, according to the committee.

"It is very important that people have confidence in the safety of our food and that we recommend speedy action if there is any cause for concern,"​ said Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the committee.

"This annual report continues to show that in most of our food we did not find pesticide residues, but 1.7 per cent of food contained residues above the maximum residue levels (MRLs) set by law. Most of the residues did not give us any concerns for the health of any group of people who might have eaten the foods."

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