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Media release: the dirty dozen updated

Joint Media Release:

Pesticide Action Network, Aotearoa New Zealand
Soil & Health Association of New Zealand, (Est. 1941), Publishers of ORGANIC NZ
Safe Food Campaign Inc

14 December 2009

Celery at top of dirty dozen

Celery is at the top of a food list as most likely to contain pesticide residues in New Zealand. As well as celery, a range of fruit, dairy products and bread are all ranked in the top dozen of foods which are more likely to contain pesticide residues. Close contenders behind this 'dirty dozen' were cucumber, nectarines, lettuce, tomatoes, wine and pears.

Safe Food Campaign researcher Alison White will be presenting her study on the updated dirty dozen at a meeting in Wellington on Tuesday night. She said that food was ranked according to the percentage of samples with pesticide residues and the number of pesticides detected in the total samples. Data is largely drawn from surveys carried out by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

"The Food Safety Authority attempts to reassure us that because the pesticides are below a certain level, then they assume it to be safe. However, we don't really know the effects of all these chemicals in our food," commented Ms White.

"What we do know is that there are various serious long term effects associated with particular pesticides that are found in our food, including endocrine or hormonal disruption, cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system damage, genetic damage and birth defects. We also know that various pesticides used to grow food have damaging effects on wildlife and the ecosystem."

"The problem we have with the Food Safety Authority's assurances is that they only consider the effects of one pesticide by itself, as if that was all we were exposed to," said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand.

"In reality we are exposed daily to multiple residues in various combinations, the effects of which the Authority knows little about. In fact the Authority is still in denial about the problem of mixtures of residues. Yet there is plenty of good science showing that combinations of pesticides can have a much more toxic effect even at low levels, than single pesticides by themselves."

"The ongoing daily ingestion of low levels of mixtures of toxic chemicals in our food may well be contributing to a raft of chronic health complaints including cancer and Parkinson's disease," said Dr Watts.

"While a raft of pesticides is applied to celery, chlorothalonil (Bravo) remains the most common, although it is carcinogenic, mutagenic and an environmental toxin and is thought responsible for aggravating the health effects of other pesticides," said Soil & Health Association spokesperson Steffan Browning.(1).

"A study released this year found that exposure to certain pesticides, including dieldrin and chlorothalonil, increased the risks of a blood disorder that can lead to multiple myeloma 5.6 fold and 2.4 fold respectively."(2)

"Considering that dieldrin was banned in agriculture in New Zealand in 1968 and from other uses in 1989, chlorothalonil, or Bravo, may be a significant culprit in New Zealand cancers."

"A fresh approach to food is needed in New Zealand in line with the growth in organics internationally. It is time that pesticide free organic production targets, such as in Soil & Health's Organic 2020 vision, were taken on for the well being of New Zealand's environmental, economic and human health," said Mr Browning.

"Women who are pregnant or breast feeding, those whose immune system is compromised and young children especially need to eat organic food, at least those on the dirty dozen list. While washing and peeling foods where possible can reduce some pesticide residues, it is even better to go organic," concluded Ms White. "In this way you support a system which better protects our children as well as the environment."

Dirty Dozen

Food in New Zealand more likely to contain pesticide residues ranked according to number of pesticides detected in total samples and percentage with pesticides:

Food % with residues no. of pesticides sample size
Celery 98.2 21 56
Peaches,fresh/canned 96.4 15 56
Apricots, fresh/canned 96.4 14 56
Butter/cream/cheese 100.0 3 24
Wheat: bread, all products 79.3 23 232
Apples 80.5 20 288
Plums 91.6 8 48
Mandarins 83.3 10 36
Raspberries 85.4 7 48
Oranges 82.1 9 56
Strawberries 71.7 16 92
Grapes/raisins/sultanas 57.1 25 28

Alison White
Co-convenor, Safe Food Campaign
(04) 476 8607, (021) 1699 120

Dr Meriel Watts,
Co-ordinator, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand
(09) 372 2034, (021) 180-7830

Steffan Browning
Spokesperson, the Soil & Health Association of NZ
(021) 725 655

© Safefood Campaign