For years, we’ve been told that in order to help maintain a healthy lifestyle, we need to incorporate at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables in our diet each day. But in the past few decades, increased demand for greater productivity and increased pressure from supermarkets to produce ‘perfect’ fruit has meant that our fruit is now addled with a cocktail of pesticides.
Ultimately, by eating the fruit, we ingest a proportion of these pesticides. So could the fruit we’re encouraged to eat actually be damaging us?
Pesticides In Fruit
Pesticides are used to deter or destroy pests that can damage fruit crops, as well as controlling pests that could potentially damage the growing environment and our health. When fruit is harvested and processed, it usually undergoes a cleaning process before being stored and shipped to retailers. However, inevitably small traces of pesticide residue can remain on the fruit.
In some cases, the residue can be reduced by peeling the fruit. However, some environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth are still concerned about the impact of using pesticides on fruit. This is for several reasons, not least because there are concerns about how the pesticide residue can affect our health, as well as the environmental cost of using the pesticides on a large scale.
The Food Standards Agency is adamant that all pesticides used on fruit are safe, and have undergone an appropriate level of testing, and research prior to commercial food production use. They also maintain that through continual surveillance and monitoring, they’re continually ensuring that pesticide residues on fruit and other foods are minimal, and at safe levels.
However, it’s worth noting that some pesticides licensed within the UK are still used abroad. The fruit is harvested and imported into the UK with traces of unlicensed pesticide residue. One such example is the pesticide phosmet. It is believed that phosmet, an organophosphate insecticide, may damage the nervous system, as well as being a suspect carcinogen. Other pesticides such as carendazim and dithiocarbamates are thought to potentially disrupt hormone function, with children being more susceptible during their early growth and development.
In 2004, a study conducted by Friends of the Earth and revealing these findings, caused a certain amount of disquiet regarding the use of pesticides. Although there are no short-term or immediate effects to consuming these pesticides, there are still concerns about the as-yet unrecorded long-term effects. The study challenged the government’s claim that levels of pesticides in fruit were safe, especially in relation to imported fruit.
Friends of the Earth made a call for the government to lower legal limits of pesticides on fruit, despite the FSA’s protestations. One of the main issues was the fact that pesticides in fruit are monitored in batches, rather than by each individual fruit. It was claimed that pesticide levels could vary significantly between individual fruits, with some fruit above the ‘safe’ legal limit.
The FSA maintains that peeling and washing fruit is a good hygiene practice. But since some pesticides may be absorbed into the fruit flesh, some people may feel more confident about buying organic produce.
Since 2004, organic sales have steadily increased. Public concern about the environmental impacts and health issues associated with the use of pesticides has perhaps been mirrored in the continual growth of the organic sector. Organic farming not only inhibits the use of pesticides, but actually encourages natural pest control measures through the protection of wildlife habitats and sympathetic farming practices.
Consumers have also argued that access to organically produced food, and organic fruit, is potentially a more transparent and ‘safer’ consumer experience. Many environmental and health groups alike are keen to encourage organic fruit production and consumption, as the long-term effects of exposure to pesticide residues is still unknown.