Worst pesticides used on food in NZ
Updated: Aug 25
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:
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:
Australia: Capsicum, zucchini, strawberries and watermelons
USA: Apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, grapes, cherries and strawberries
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
Pymetrozine 3.00 Insecticide
EPA has classified it as likely human
Potential ground water contaminant
Sulfoxaflor 1.00 lettuce head Insecticide
5.00 lettuce leaves Harmful to bees
May be toxic to humans – affects
nervous system and liver
Sulfoxaflor is a product of the
Dow Chemical Company
Carbendazim 2.00 Fungicide
Banned in Europe in 2011
MRL = maximum residue limits
EFSA = European Food Safety Authority
EPA = Environmental Protection Authority NZ
*Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body's endocrine system (hormones) and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans.
Glyphosate is a weed killer, which is used in brands like Roundup (from Monsanto). It was first registered in the USA in 1974.
Last year, the World Health Organisation classified it as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.
Studies have shown that glyphosate causes damage to cells and genes that can lead to cancer.
A study from San Diego School of Medicine published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2017 tested urine samples from 100 randomly selected men and women between 1993 and 2016. It found levels of glyphosate in urine had increased by about 500 percent over those 23 years.
Yet, it’s still legal to use it on your garden or your lawn, and in most public spaces like parks in New Zealand. There are no figures for the precise volume used in New Zealand. As at 13 October 2015, there were 89 trade name products registered under the ACVM Act containing glyphosate.
As far as the use on fruit, NZ has a residue limit for glyphosate of 0.01 mg/kg. For all other uses the default MRL of 0.1mg/kg applies.
New Zealand's arable industries (crops like wheat, maize and potatoe) and horticulture industries (fruit and vegetable) were highly dependent on the use of glyphosate. Federated Farmers arable industry group chairman Guy Wigley said in a news article that if a ban were to occur in New Zealand, it would jeopardise the country's ability to be competitive, particularly in grain and seed production.
It appears that there is a strong resistance from our regulating government to make a change, as money seems to speak louder than health concerns.
Our supermarkets are full of food where Glyphosate has been applied. Glyphosate is found in foods like breakfast cereals - for example Cheerios, Cornflakes and Quaker Oats. It is also found in Snack foods like Goldfish Crackers, Oreos, Doritos and Ritz Crackers as well as in Canola Oil and grains and seeds, to name a few.
This chemical is used to control fungal diseases in vegetables, crops and lawn. Chlorothalonil is acutely toxic, is a suspected carcinogen and linked to blood disorder.
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has moved to stop the sale of 4 products containing this chemical to Kiwi consumers from end of 2016: Yates Bravo, Yates Greenguard, Yates Guardall and Tui Disease Eliminator for Fruit and Veges.
However, 3 other products containing chlorothalonil are still available for use by commercial operators: McGregor's Black Spot and Fungus Spray, Watkins Fungus and Mildew Spray and Taratek 5F.
The EPA said its risk assessment showed there were "unacceptable human health risks" from chlorothalonil's use in home gardens but considered it ok to be used by certified commercial operators. Does that make any sense to you? If the EPA knows that this chemical has "unacceptable human health risks" - how on earth is it ok to be used on our commercially grown food??
So here is a list of the maximum chlorothalonil residue levels still allowed on our food:
Berries and other small fruits (except grapes) 10
Brassica vegetables * 5
Fruiting vegetables 5
Other stone fruits 10
*Brassica vegetables include Broccoli, Cauliflower, Arugula, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Cabbage, Radish, Turnip and others.
Other toxic pesticides worth mentioning:
From 1 July 2015, acephate products can be applied at a maximum rate of 3,500 g per hectare and no more than three times per crop cycle. Acephate is an organophosphate that is an active ingredient in some insecticides to control psyllid, leafroller, mealy bug and other pests.
Acephate is toxic to both people and the environment. It can cause cancer, interfere with hormones and is a potential ground water contaminant.
It is used on Avocados, Boysenberries, Cabbages, Cauliflowers, Citrus Fruit, Lettuce, Tamarillos, Tomatoes and other food.
From 1 July 2015 carbaryl products can be applied at a maximum rate of 2,700 g of carbaryl per hectare and no more than three times per crop cycle. Carbaryl is used as an insecticide to control a range of pests such as aphids, leaf miners, caterpillars and codling moths.
Carbaryl is toxic to people and the environment. It is a developmental and reproductive toxin. It is a suspected endoctrine disruptor and can cause cancer. Carbaryl is highly toxic to the environment, insects, birds, fish and other aquatic creatures.
It is used on Cabbages, Tomatoes and other Fruits.
From 1st July 2015 chlorpyrifos may be applied at a maximum rate of 1500 g of chlorpyrifos per hectare and once per crop cycle. It is used as an insecticide to control a range of pests such as springtails, thrips, scale and leaf miners.
Chlorpyrifos is toxic to both people and the environment. It can damage the nervous system and disrupt our hormones.
It is used on Bananas, Grapes, Kiwifruit, Maize, Onions, Potatoes, Stone Fruit, Tomatoes and other fruits as well as sheep fat.
(**)The new rules prohibit people entering the area where acephate, carbaryl or chlorpyrifos has been applied for 24 hours unless they are wearing full personal protective and respiratory protective equipment. This rule is to protect peoples' health from any chemicals still present on plants or in the air.
Fruit & vegetables with the highest pesticide levels:
The Environmental Working Group in the USA compiles a list of the fruit and vegetables with the most pesticides every year.
The 2020 list of the "Dirty Dozen" is as follows:
In New Zealand, pesticide use is a bit different to that of the United States. The last information I could find, however was from 2013. Safe Food Campaign’s Dirty Dozen 2013 analysed 600 samples on contained pesticide residues.
The worst offenders in NZ were:
Wheat (bread, others)
To my absolute dismay I noted that grapes are the worst when it comes to chemicals.
35 different pesticides were found on nearly all of the tested grape samples.
Surely those chemicals must also end up in the wine we drink. What a disaster! Now I have to switch to organic wine as well!
Pesticides are designed to kill pests and weeds. Washing produce isn't going to get rid of all the toxic residues, so we end up ingesting some of the chemicals, which has a negative impact on our health.
Eating fruit & vegetables or grains sprayed with chemicals occasionally won't do you much harm. The problem starts with continuous use over a long time. Eating food sprayed with toxic pesticides over many years overloads our metabolic system, which already has to deal with other environmental issues like air, soil and water pollution as well as other lifestyle factors.
The only way to avoid the toxins is to eat organic. Unfortunately, this won't be possible for many people because of the high prices of organic food. Given the option - would you eat organic or food sprayed with chemicals? I'm pretty sure, most people would go for the organic option.
We need to put an end to all the chemicals that harm us and our environment. It is high time for stricter controls in New Zealand and for more tests to be carried out to establish the impact different chemicals have on us and our environment.
I know many of you will think - it's easy to complain - but how do we fix it? What can we replace those chemicals with? In an ideal world, everyone would eat organic. But I know, that's not the world we live in. And I don't have the answers either. But I'm sure there are people, who know much more than me about chemicals, who should be out there trying to solve those problems.
I don't blame the farmers - they just want to make a living. It's the big chemical companies I don't like - for them it's just about profit. The more chemicals they can sell, the happier they are. According to them, all those chemicals are safe to eat. I wonder if the head honchos eat food sprayed with their own chemicals, or if they buy organic....Maybe they can put their money into research on how to offer non-toxic alternatives?
Last, but not least, take a look at this video "The effect of organic food", which clearly shows the difference between conventional and organic produce:
For a new update on pesticide testing NZ - check out my new blog
(1) Dithiocarbamates toxicity: Dithiocarbamate Toxicity - An Appraisal, Pesticides in the Modern World - Effects of Pesticides Exposure, Dr. Margarita Stoytcheva (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-307-454-2
(2) Environmental Protection Authority: https://www.epa.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Documents/Hazardous-Substances/HSNO-monitoring-report/Monitoring-the-Effectiveness-of-the-HSNO-Act-1996-2017.pdf
Ministry for Primary Industries: http://www.mpi.govt.nz/news-and-resources/resources/registers-and-lists/maximum-residue-levels-database/
Methyl bromide: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/MBtech.pdf
European ban on methyl bromide: https://www.pan-europe.info/old/Archive/publications/MethylBromide.htm
European Commission Food Safety:
European Carbaryl residue allowances: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32014R1096
Ministry of Primary Industry - Standards, importation of fresh fruit and vegetables into NZ: file:///C:/Users/Anita/Downloads/Fresh-Produce-IHS-152-02-final.pdf
Ministry of Primary Industries -Exceptions from Maximum Residue Levels for Agricultural Chemicals : FN-Maximum-Residue-Levels-for-Agricultural-Compounds%20(1).pdf
Strawberries and pesticides Australia - Choice: https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/food-warnings-and-safety/pesticides/articles/strawberries-test-reveals-health-concerns
Ministry of Primary Industries Database for chemical use in NZ: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/news-and-resources/resources/registers-and-lists/maximum-residue-levels-database/
NZ Pesticide use of Chlorothalonil: http://www.eco.org.nz/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,print,0&cntnt01articleid=51&cntnt01showtemplate=false&cntnt01returnid=60
EFSA Journal peer review on Indoxacarb: https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5140
Endocdrine disrupting pesticides in European food: https://www.pan-europe.info/sites/pan-europe.info/files/public/resources/reports/Report_ED%20pesticides%20in%20EU%20food_PAN%20Europe.pdf#overlay-context=media/press-releases
Study on lethal and sublethal effects of a methomyl-based insecticide in Hoplobatrachus rugulosus: http://europepmc.org/articles/pmc5293688
University of Adelaide research on cancer:
Study on exposure to glyphosate:
USA glyphosates tolerances for residues: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/40/180.364
Ministry of Primary Industry: Regulation-and-Monitoring-of-Glyphosate%20(1).pdf
Food standards Australia/New Zealand: https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/code/proposals/Documents/M1011-MRLs-Appr.pdf
Recommended by EU decision casts shadow over widespread use of glyphosate weedkiller in NZ: http://www.stuff.co.nz/marlborough-express/news/98272658/EU-decision-casts-shadow-over-widespread-use-of-glyphosate-weedkiller-in-NZ
EWG Dirty Dozen: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php#.Wrp-MIhuZPY
Consumer - ban of Chlorothalonil: https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/toxic-pesticides-banned
EU countries 2015 pesticides tests: https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.2903/sp.efsa.2017.EN-1211