30/07/2004

Children exposed to 'dangerous pesticides', claims report

Scores of British children are being exposed to "potentially dangerous levels of pesticides just from eating a single apple or pear" every day, according to a leading environmentalist group.

The research by Friends of the Earth, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health this weekend, claims that up to 220 young children a day are ingesting dangerous pesticides because it is possible to breach internationally agreed safety levels even remaining within legal limits.

The research used mathematical modelling to measure exposure to pesticides for children aged between 18 months and four years old.

Using government data on pesticide residues found on apples and pears, and information on the quantities of apples and pears eaten by young children from the National Dietary Survey, the study found that between 10 and 220 young children could be exposed to pesticide residues at levels which could "pose immediate and long term threats to health".

The report found that imported produce was "more likely" to contain high pesticide levels than homegrown fruit.

Friends of The Earth claims that the government knows that high levels occur in individual fruit, but is misleading the public by saying that there are "no health concerns as long as legal limits are met".

While there may be no immediate effects from consuming these pesticides, there may be "long-term" implications. Children are particularly susceptible because they are still growing and developing, the lobby group said.

Friends of the Earth's Senior Food Researcher and one of the authors of the report, Emily Diamand, claimed that pesticide safety limits set to protect young children could be exceeded just by a child eating one apple or pear.

"This problem must not be ignored any longer. The government must act quickly to make sure that legal limits for these pesticides protect consumer safety and do more to help farmers reduce their pesticide use," she said.

The government regularly monitors fruit and vegetables for pesticide residues. But instead of testing individual items of produce, the Government tests blended batches, with official figures only reporting the average for the batch (eg 10 apples). Research in the 1990s showed that some fruit and vegetables contain much higher levels of pesticides than others, with potentially no residues in one piece of fruit and a very high level of residues in another.

Friends of the Earth has called on the government to "take urgent action" to lower legal limits to ensure that safety limits are not breached.

Friends of the Earth has urged parents not to stop giving apples and pears to their children as fresh fruit is an important part of a healthy diet. Parents can choose organic produce but it is not affordable to everyone – peeling and washing fruit may reduce but not eliminate residues, it said.

(gmcg)

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