Pesticide Levels in UK Baby Food Above New Limit

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 4, 2000 (ENS) - Tests on baby food carried out by a UK government watchdog have discovered pesticide residues that may disrupt the hormone system.

The Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) today released its quarterly report on pesticide residues for January to March of this year. The committee, which advises the government on pesticide issues, tested fruit based baby food, lettuce, broccoli, milk, duck, mayonnaise/salad cream and nut butters.


Children eat far more produce per pound of body weight than adults and are more sensitive to the effects of pesticides because their nervous systems are changing and developing rapidly. (Photo by Keith Weller, courtesy Agricultural Research Service)
In addition to finding carbendazim in baby food made by Heinz and Milupa, it found other pesticides in broccoli, lettuce and strawberries.

Designed to kill fungi, carbendazim was listed by the German government as a potential human hormone-disrupting chemical in 1999. The chemical has been shown to damage the production of sperm in rats and in the development of the testicles.

Levels in the Milupa brand exceeded new limits for baby food, which will come into force in 2002. A European Union regulation setting a level of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) for all pesticides was introduced this year but will not be enforced until July 2002.

A level of 0.02 mg/kg of carbendazim was found in a sample of Milupa's Peach and Raspberry Compote.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth wants a government ban on pesticides already identified as hormone disrupters, and wants retailers and food companies to remove these chemicals from their food.

The group claims there is strong evidence that hormone disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, have had dramatic effects on wildlife, including the feminization of male fish. It cites growing concern that several human health problems may be linked to these chemicals, such as declining sperm counts and increases in rates of testicular and breast cancer.

"Pregnant women, babies and children should not be exposed to hormone disrupting pesticides even at low levels," said Sandra Bell, pesticides campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

"But shoppers can't tell if these pesticides are lurking in the lettuce they choose or the baby food they put in their basket. Supermarkets and food companies must stop this toxic lottery by being more vigilant and ensuring that these dangerous pesticides are not present in any of the food they sell."

The PRC's survey of bottled, canned and powdered baby food found "very low" level residues in 10 percent of the 69 samples analyzed. A range of 116 pesticides were tested for, using the new European Union 0.01 mg/kg limit.

One sample was found to contain multiple residues of pesticides and one sample labelled as organic contained a residue of chlormequat at 0.03 mg/kg.

Chlormequat is not suspected of being a hormone disrupter and the level found was a hundred times smaller than the current maximum residue level. But the discovery is troubling because organic farming is supposed to be free of all synthetic pesticides.


Pesticide residue was also found on strawberries in the PRC survey. (Photo by Ken Hammond, courtesy Agricultural Research Service)
The retailer and UK Register of Organic Food Standards have been informed of the discovery. The producer, Baby Organix, investigated the source of the contamination and found that it had been caused by spray drift from a non organic orchard.

"I am absolutely appalled to find that one jar purchased in January 2000 of one of our 52 varieties has been found to contain a very low level of a growth regulator used on conventional pears," said Lizzie Vann, company founder and managing director.

"Spray drift is a real problem for organic farmers, who effectively become victims of the indiscriminate practices of conventional farmers. I can, however, give parents my personal guarantee that since that sample was found we have made our testing regime even tougher and can confirm that this incident could not be repeated."

Other pesticides residues found included two cases of 0.02 mg/kg of methiocarb, which is used to kill snails and slugs; 0.01 mg/kg of propargite, used as a mite controller on a large range of fruits and cereals and three cases of carbendazim, none higher than 0.02 mg/kg.

Iprodione was found in lettuces sold in most major supermarkets, in some strawberries, and over the legal limit in Spanish broccoli at one store.

Iprodione was found with dimethoate in one lettuce sample and another lettuce contained seven different pesticides.

Vinclozolin was found in a sample of strawberries and is considered a high priority substance on a European Commission list of pesticides being investigated for their effects on human health and the environment.

Chlorpyrifos was found at levels over the legal limit in Spanish broccoli. Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxin, recently the subject of severe restrictions in the U.S. It is listed by the German Federal Environment Agency as a potential hormone disrupter, linked to male and female genital deformities.