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“Safe to eat? May be not for kids”

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Children are being exposed to a cocktail of pesticides every time they eat non-organic raisins and sultanas. The latest New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS)(1), released by the Ministry for Primary Industries, showed residues of 24 pesticides in just one sample, and all eight samples tested contained pesticides.

Every five years, the New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS) assesses our exposure to pesticides, contaminants and nutrients. Changes in reporting methods from lower and more delicate ‘limits of detection’ to ‘limits of reporting’ has resulted in a massive non-disclosure of pesticide detections.

A coalition of groups (2) keen to improve food safety in New Zealand is urging action from the government to reduce pesticide residues. Some key features of the survey include:

  • Foods with the greatest number of pesticides: raisins/sultanas (33), grapes (23), strawberries (18), bran flake cereal (16), nectarines (11), frozen mixed berries (10).

  • Notably high levels of aluminium in muffins, scones, cakes and slices.

  • 8 pesticides detected in baby food, in 22% of 32 samples.

  • Neonicotinoid insecticides (known to harm bees) measured for the first time.

  • The fungicide chlorothalonil, classified as a possible human carcinogen, by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (3) detected in 10 samples, highest level in celery.

  • Glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen (IARC) and a potential reproductive toxin is an active ingredient in weed-sprays, such as Roundup. It is to be tested separately.

“It is extremely concerning that 22% of baby foods tested had pesticides detected.” said Alison White of the Safe Food Campaign.
“We urge the government to have zero tolerance for pesticide residues in baby food, and to carry out a national surveillance programme of pesticide residues in baby food. We expect the safety of baby food to be a priority for our government to focus on.”

“Certain pesticides found in baby food in this study have been found to be linked to cancer progression and endocrine or hormonal disruption,” said Dr Heli Matilainen, cancer researcher and Safe Food Campaign co-governor. “Children (toddlers, babies), due to their actively developing nervous, endocrine and immune systems, are much more vulnerable to these residues than adults. This means that it is not the dose which is critical, but the timing of exposure, because doses thousands of times lower than those normally considered toxic may interfere with children’s development.”

Ms. White advises bakers and consumers to be careful when buying baked goods, as high levels of aluminium were detected in these products. This could be due to an aluminium compound in baking powder, or use of aluminium tins and trays.

“We are pleased that MPI has assured us they are going to conduct their own targeted glyphosate testing, but it must be on all foods sprayed with glyphosate, especially genetically engineered foods,”

said Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ. “Glyphosate residues have been found in a large variety of foods, including genetically engineered soy, corn, oilseeds and sugar products and New Zealand honey,” (4)

Jodie Bruning of Rite-Demands agrees: “In other New Zealand monitoring, glyphosate has been found in wheat over 50 times our permitted maximum residue level (of 0.1mg/kg). Oats were not tested, but we know glyphosate is applied to all cereals. Glyphosate must be included in the TDS in future. It’s important to understand also, that cereal crops frequently have several different pesticide applications, including 2,4-D.”(5)

“Given the fact that WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as ‘Probably carcinogenic to humans’ (6), no glyphosate residues should be accepted in food - at all. There is generally no ‘safe level of intake’ for cancer-causing substances, such as glyphosate,” said Dr Heli Matilainen, cancer researcher and Safe Food Campaign co-governor.

The most commonly purchased brands, as based on consumer data, are sampled during the NZTDS, however consumers are not informed which brands are the safest.

“MPI has changed its method of data collection by up to 100 times for ‘high carbohydrate’ and ‘high fat’ products. This is disingenuous at least, as organochlorine pesticides like endosulfan, DDT and their metabolites are lipophilic and accumulate in fatty tissue. Parents and children deserve to see the levels these chemicals are detected at, not the levels MPI elect to disclose.” said Mrs. Bruning.

“The fudging of data by MPI is hiding what appears to be an increase in pesticide residues in New Zealand’s food,” said Steffan Browning of Soil & Health. “While we applaud the new inclusion of neonicotinoids, which are neurotoxic to people as well as bees, consumers deserve to be better informed about which brands of food are more likely to contain residues.”

“The best way to lessen these residues and contaminants going into our bodies is to eat organic food, and this is especially important for children,” said Mr. Browning.

“What parent wants to give raisin and sultana products with 22 or 24 different chemical residues to their children?”

“Unfortunately some of the foods most liked by children – raisins, sultanas, grapes and strawberries – are the ones with the most pesticides in them, and parents should be especially careful to ensure that their children eat these only as certified organic,” said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Children’s exposure to pesticides, including residues in food, can impact on their childhood development and their propensity for diseases such as cancer later in life. Nobody actually has any real understanding of the effect of 24 different pesticides together in one small box of raisins, because pesticides in mixtures such as this can behave very differently to the single pesticide assessed by MPI; and it is unconscionable for the government to pretend this cocktail is safe when they have never tested it.”

The coalition member organisations are calling for zero tolerance to pesticides in baby food, more transparency and consumer information to identify what pesticides are in what products, glyphosate testing implemented immediately, a cross government pesticide reduction strategy and support for transition to organic production. Producers must be held accountable for selling food containing multi pesticide residue foods that are unfit for the community.



(2) Coalition: Soil & Health Association of New Zealand, Safe Food Campaign, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand, GE Free NZ and RITE: a Safer System for Pesticide Assessment.

(4) Rubio F, Guo E, Kamp L (2014) Survey of Glyphosate Residues in Honey, Corn and Soy Products. J Environ Anal Toxicol 4: 249.

Written 5 June 2018 with help from:

  • Alison White, Safe Food Campaign NZ

  • Steffan Browning, Soil & Health Association New Zealand

  • Jodie Bruning,

  • Dr Meriel Watts, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand

  • Claire Bleakley, GE Free NZ


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