By Sean Poulter
Free fruit supplied to thousands of primary schools to improve the diet of youngsters is laced with traces of pesticides, an official study has revealed.
The levels were below permitted levels though organic campaigners say chemical exposure through the scheme should be eliminated completely.
The details emerged with the publication of the annual report of the Government’s Pesticides Residues Committee, which reports the results of tests on more than 4,000 samples of food and drink.
This found that some 1.2per cent of all the samples contained pesticides at above the recommended safety limit.
The levels of pesticides varied considerably, with imported fruit and vegetables tending to have higher levels.
One in seven beans in a pod one in 25 fresh peas (in pods) and one in five yams all had pesticides above the allowed level.
One in 70 apples and pears had illegal levels of pesticides.
All of the fruit and vegetables supplied to schools contained pesticides within allowed levels.
Nearly all the apples (49 out of 52 tested) and every one of the bananas had some pesticide residues on the skin.
Many of the pieces of fruit had more than one pesticide.
The committee and the Food Standards Agency insist that the levels are so low as to not to be a cause for concern.
Committee chairman, Dr Ian Brown, said: ‘I understand that people are concerned about pesticide residues in their food, but as a doctor I cannot state too strongly the importance of eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
‘Scientific evidence shows that the health benefits are far greater than the risk from pesticide residues.’
The Soil Association, which represents organic farmers, said while the chemical residues were within safety limits, this was still a cause for concern.
A spokesman said: ‘Unbelievably we learn yet again that pesticides are turning up in fruit and vegetables supplied to schoolchildren. Yet again the government tells us this is nothing to be worried about.
‘Yet we know that children’s exposure and susceptibility to pesticides is likely to be higher as per body weight they ingest more food and drink than adults and their bodies’ ability to process and excrete any such residues is different to that of adults.
‘It is unacceptable that 94 per cent of apples, and 100 per cent of bananas tested contained pesticides school fruit and vegetable scheme.’
She said that the ‘cocktail’ effect of different pesticides had never been tested properly.
‘Powerful new evidence is emerging that suggests the combined effect of pesticide ‘mixtures’ may be more significant than previously realised, especially with regard to endocrine disruptors.’