'Forever chemicals' found in over half of food and drink samples, as campaigners call for 25 pesticides to be banned

9 April 2024, 05:47

Strawberries, fruit stall, Borough Market, Borough, Southwark, London, UK
Strawberries, fruit stall, Borough Market, Borough, Southwark, London, UK. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Campaigners are calling for the government to ban 25 pesticides that contain so-called 'forever chemicals', after a study revealed that they are present in over half of the tested food and drink available in the UK.

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The PFA chemicals, known as such because they take can take centuries to break down, and have been linked with severe health conditions.

More than 3,300 samples of food and drink available in the UK supply chain were tested for residues of around 401 pesticides in 2022, according to a report from the Environment Department's advisory committee on pesticide residues.

Strawberries were the most likely to have pesticide residue, with 95% of 120 samples tested coming back positive, according to the Pesticide Action Network UK (Pan UK).

Meanwhile 61% of the 109 grape samples tested had pesticide residues, along with 56% of the 121 cherry samples, 42% of the 96 spinach samples and 38% of the 96 tomato samples.

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Peaches, cucumbers, apricots and beans all saw at least 15% of samples containing PFAs, the analysis showed.

The report said that 56.4% of samples tested contained a residue of pesticides they were testing, but this was below the maximum residue level (MRL) allowed in food by law. Meanwhile, 1.8% of the samples contained a pesticide residue above this legal level.

The UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) carries out risk assessments on any pesticide residues and takes further action if it is deemed unsafe.

The report said: ""It is useful to note, even when a food contains a residue above the MRL, HSE rarely finds any likely risk to the health of the people who have eaten the food."

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But Pan UK said the tests don't go far enough.

Nick Mole, from Pan UK, said: "Given the growing body of evidence linking PFAs to serious diseases such as cancer, it is deeply worrying that UK consumers are being left with no choice but to ingest these chemicals, some of which may remain in their bodies long into the future.

"We urgently need to develop a better understanding of the health risks associated with ingesting these "forever chemicals" and do everything we can to exclude them from the food chain."

Pan UK is urging the Government to ban the 25 PFA pesticides currently in use in Britain, six of which are classified as "highly hazardous".

A farmer spraying pesticide
A farmer spraying pesticide. Picture: Alamy

The organisation said ministers should also increase support for farmers to help them end their reliance on chemicals and adopt safer, more sustainable alternatives.

Mr Mole said: "The UK government's much-delayed plans for limiting the negative impacts of PFAs focus solely on industrial chemicals, ignoring pesticides entirely.

"PFA pesticides are absolutely unnecessary for growing food and are an easily avoidable source of PFA pollution.

"Getting rid of them would be a massive win for consumers, farmers and the environment."

Dr Shubhi Sharma, from Chem Trust, which campaigns to protect humans and animals from harmful chemicals, said: "PFAs are a group of entirely human-made chemicals that didn't exist on the planet a century ago and have now contaminated every single corner.

"No-one gave their consent to be exposed to these harmful chemicals, we haven't had the choice to opt out, and now we have to live with this toxic legacy for decades to come.

"The very least we can do is to stop adding to this toxic burden by banning the use of PFAs as a group".

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