Dramatic rise seen in pesticides in EU fruits and vegetables, report says

A farmer fills a spray machine with pesticide at his vineyard in Greece.
Farmer Dimitris Kakalis, 25, fills a spray machine with pesticide at his vineyard near the town of Tyrnavos in central Greece on Feb. 13, 2022.
(Giannis Papanikos / Associated Press)
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The contamination of fruits and vegetables produced in the European Union by the most toxic pesticides has substantially increased over the last decade, according to research published Tuesday.

The study by the Pesticide Action Network Europe group said European citizens have been exposed to a “dramatic rise” in the frequency and intensity of residues of pesticides.

The EU has strict rules concerning pesticides, and the amounts of residues found in food must be as low as possible and safe for consumers. As part of its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by midcentury, the 27-nation bloc wants to halve the use of pesticides by 2030.


Contrary to data from the EU’s executive branch showing a 12% reduction of the more dangerous pesticides in 2019 compared with the 2015-17 period, the report, titled “Forbidden Fruit,” says their use actually increased by 8.8%.

A European Commission official challenged the report’s conclusions, saying that since analytical methods have improved many of the substances reported as most frequently found were not detectable back in 2011.

“This can lead to an apparent increase in the total number of findings which does not reflect, however, an increase in the actual quantity of pesticide residues in food, nor an increase in overall pesticide use,” the official said. The person was not authorized to speak for the commission as a matter of practice.

The FDA is banning the use on food crops of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that environmentalists say poses risks to children and farmworkers.

Aug. 18, 2021

The most dangerous pesticides belong to the group of “candidates for substitution” that the commission has flagged to member countries as problematic and which it says should be replaced with less toxic substances. Some of them have been linked to the risk of developing cancers, heart problems and other serious illnesses.

“The use of the most dangerous pesticides in Europe is in fact rising, not falling. Laws are being ignored and consumers are being exposed to a rising tide of chemical exposure,” researchers said.

In total, 97,170 fruit samples were included in the analysis for 2011-19. Starting with a contamination rate of 18% in 2011, this increased to 29% in 2019, with an average 53% rise in contamination in nine years. While kiwi fruits were almost free of those substances 10 years ago, about a third are now contaminated, and half of all cherries sampled were tainted in 2019, compared with 22% in 2011.


Women face greater risk of obesity, earlier menstruation and possibly breast cancer if their grandmothers were exposed to DDT during pregnancy, researchers say.

April 14, 2021

“Often the food shows multiple residues of two or more of these toxic substances at the same time,” Pesticide Action Network official Salomé Roynel said. “This clearly demonstrates that the substitution rules have never been implemented by the member states and that they have failed in their responsibility to protect consumers.”

According to the research, half of the pears produced in Europe were contaminated with as many as five such substances, and the figure reached 87% for pears grown in Belgium.

The group said member countries should immediately ban the 12 most toxic candidates for substitution and called on the European Commission to ensure that substitution guidelines are reviewed independently by the end of year.