In recent weeks organic food has faced some criticism after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK called into question its nutritional value. In a review of studies, the FSA said that with a limited number of exceptions organic food is indistinguishable nutritionally from conventional alternatives.
Now its sister food body, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA), has unveiled results of a five-year study looking at exposure to pesticide residues in the national diet. The conclusion that “the average New Zealand diet presents no chemical residue food safety concerns”, further undermine the argument from the organic lobby that pesticide residues from conventional foods are a health hazard.
Analysing more than 120 commonly eaten and locally produced foods in the New Zealand diet, NZFSA said the Total Diet Study (TDS) has so far reaffirmed that residues in food are not a problem in the country.
Project manager Cherie Flynn said: “From 60,000 analyses, there were just two areas we had another look at.”
These two cases were non-compliance with pesticide limits in tomatoes from Napier and higher than expected levels of lead in breads from the same town. Flynn said neither of these areas presents a health concern.
“Once again New Zealand food producers have proven, almost without exception, to have high regard for good agricultural practice and are taking care to meet all regulatory requirements,” concluded Flynn.
The Soil & Health Association of New Zealand was not so convinced by the study saying that the NZFSA was guilty of downplaying the threat of pesticides in the country.
Need for organics
The association, which promotes organic food and farming in New Zealand, said the survey shows a need for organics.
Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning said the survey found that most composite regional food samples contained pesticide residues, with several having significant multiple residues.
“It is time for food without pesticide residues – this means organics,” said Browning.
“Analysis of the Food Residue Surveillance Programme results for celery and spinach, showed 100 per cent of the celery samples, and 75 per cent of the spinach samples contained pesticide residues, with many samples containing multiple residues.”
“The celery and spinach were mostly contaminated with chlorothalinol (Bravo) or dithiocarbomates respectively, and sometimes with both. Other toxic pesticides were also found, this showing the need for to boost organic agriculture.”