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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Worst pesticides used on food in NZ

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

For an update on pesticide testing NZ - check out my new blog

The rate of some cancers has doubled and even quadrupled in the world over the past 100-150 years, according to researchers from the University of Adelaide Medical School.

What has changed in the world over the last 4 generations? Why do we have more cancers today than we did 100 years ago? You should think, cancer rates would have gone down with all the new technology and medications available to us today.

However, 90 - 95 % of all cancers are due to what we eat and other lifestyle factors such as stress, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise, sun exposure and environmental pollution.

One contributing factor stands out very clearly to me. It is the use of all the pesticides we have nowadays. Everything is sprayed with toxic chemicals. To increase the yield of crops, farmers spray chemicals to kill pests, diseases and weeds. Since 1950, the increase of pesticide use is estimated to be 2.5 million tons annually worldwide. (1)

You have to ask the question - if those chemicals kill bugs and weeds - what effect do they have on us?

This started me off on a research quest - working my way through the Ministry of Primary Industries Food Notice on maximum residue levels for agricultural compounds (from February 2018) to their database on allowed pesticides for individual crops and comparing this to the European standards. Let me tell you - it's not an easy task. It took me ages to find all the information, which is cleverly hidden away and written in confusing and long-drawn out documents to make sure most people give up looking for the answers.

What I found only strengthened my belief to avoid eating anything conventionally grown. I'd rather grow my own veggies and spend a bit more on buying organic food and have the peace of mind of knowing I'm not putting myself and my family at risk of getting sick because of all the chemicals in our food.

What concerns me though, is that organic food is much more expensive than conventional grown food and therefore unattainable for many of us - especially low-income families in NZ.

Here are some examples of the worst chemicals used in NZ:

Methyl Bromide

In New Zealand we are still using chemicals that are banned in Europe, because of their high toxicity, cancer causing properties and environmental risks.

One of those banned chemicals in Europe is Methyl Bromide. This chemical is destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, which shields the earth from ultraviolet radiation. You should think this would be a priority for New Zealand, as we are most affected by the ozone layer hole.

Methyl Bromide is toxic to the central and peripheral nervous system. It is also a developmental and reproductive toxin and exposure is known to cause skin, kidney, respiratory, liver and neurological damage resulting in severe or permanent health effects.

Under the Montreal Protocol all developed countries (including NZ) were required to phase out the use of Methyl Bromide by 1 January 2005. In NZ we still use Methyl Bromide - with an annual consumption of about 355 tonnes - in fact, we have increased our use by more than 4 times over the last 16 years.(2) Even so there are exemptions for the phase-out of Methyl Bromide - like quarantine and pre-shipment - it is high time for NZ to find alternatives.

Methyl Bromide is used to fumigate containers arriving and departing NZ and to prevent the introduction, establishment or spread of quarantine pests. It may also be used to fumigate imported commodities like rice, spices, as well as fruit and vegetables.

Some examples of methyl bromide use on imported fruit and vegetables:

Country Fruit/vegetables

Australia: Capsicum, zucchini, strawberries and watermelons

USA: Apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, grapes, cherries and strawberries

China: Garlic

Mexico: Grapes

Tonga: Watermelons

For the above fruit & vegetables the allowed residue level of Methyl Bromide is 50 mg/kg.

Nuts and spices can have the following allowed residue levels:

Nuts 200 mg/kg

Spices 400 mg/kg

Yam, nothing beats a nice bath with chemicals on our food!

Chemicals on our lettuce

Let's take a look at a staple in every household - the humble lettuce.

Eating lettuce is meant to be good for our health - or is it?

Not all of the following pesticides will be sprayed on every lettuce, but some of them will be.

Here is a list of pesticides that are allowed to be used on lettuce in NZ:

Pesticide: MRL (mg/kg) Facts/Comments

Acephate 2.00 Insecticide

Banned in Europe since 2003

Can cause cancer

Suspected endocrine disruptor*

Potential ground water contaminant


Carbendazim 2.00 Fungicide

Banned in Europe in 2011

Dangerous chemical toxin

Causes malformations in the foetus

Capable of disrupting chromosome

Can cause infertility

Can cause cancer

Dangerous for water organisms

DuPont (the producer) was misleading

regulators to get approval in the EU

Chlorothalonil 10.00 Fungicide

Also known as “Bravo”

Can increase the risk of blood disorder

Can cause cancer

Imidacloprid 1.00 Insecticide

Classified as moderately toxic

Potential ground water contaminant

Indoxacarb 3.00 Insecticide

A review in the EFSA Journal for the EU

in 2017 has identified an acute intake

concern and the EU is reviewing the


Methamidophos 0.20 Insecticide

Banned in Europe since 2008 due to

acute consumer risk.

Very toxic for humans

Dangerous for the environment

Very toxic for aquatic organisms

Pendimethalin 0.05 Herbicide

Possible human carcinogen

Slightly toxic

Pymetrozine 3.00 Insecticide

EPA has classified it as likely human


Slightly toxic

Potential ground water contaminant

Sulfoxaflor 1.00 lettuce head Insecticide

5.00 lettuce leaves Harmful to bees