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Safe Food Campaign & Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa joint media release
3 October 05, updated 1 Nov 05

Gender bender in our tomatoes

South Korea recently turned down meat from New Zealand because it contained above acceptable levels of the insecticide endosulfan. Endosulfan may not be just in meat, but is also commonly used in a range of fruit and vegetables in New Zealand, and especially in tomatoes. Because of its adverse health effects and its persistence and bioaccumulation, endosulfan is one of the 12 pesticides that the Safe Food Campaign and Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa have asked ERMA to urgently reassess.

Endosulfan has triggered international action because of its persistence and its ability to bioaccumulate up the foodchain. Contaminated with dioxins, it is also a known endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant, that is, it may have an effect on hormones at minute quantities, and has been linked to breast cancer, infertility and foetal death.

In the recent Total Diet Survey published by the Food Safety Authority last year, endosulfan was found in nine different foods: tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, courgette, pear, oil, peanuts, peanut butter and salad dressing. The highest levels were in tomatoes. In some tests just published by the Authority, strawberries also contained the insecticide.

    "It is time endosulfan was banned in New Zealand, not only because of risk to trade but also because it has the ability to have a harmful effect on the environment and our bodies," commented Ms White, Co-convenor of the Safe Food Campaign. "An ultra low dose of endosulfan, such as may be in food, may cause changes in hormone function and effects on organ development that often only appear later in life. The timing of the exposure to the foetus or young child is at least as important as the dose. I recommend that pregnant women and young children especially get these foods organically and lower their risk of exposure."

    "Endosulfan has caused many fatal poisonings around the world. There have been horrific health effects in India, where it has been used on cashew nut plantations. Local villagers have suffered cancers, birth defects and mental retardation. It is a persistent organochlorine that contaminates the environment worldwide soil, air, rain, water, even the bark of trees, and human breast milk. It has been banned in 20 other countries. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century we are still using such a highly toxic and ubiquitous environmental pollutant in our so-called clean, green agriculture" said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network. "With this latest finding ERMA must now urgently review endosulfan with a view to banning it completely."

For enquiries contact:
Alison White, Co-convenor Safe Food Campaign, (04)476 8607, (021)1699 120
Dr Meriel Watts, Co-ordinator Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, (09)372 2034, (025)602 3194

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