Pesticides in fruit and vege

Nine pesticides banned in the EU detected in our test of local fruit and vege.

20feb pesticides in fruit and vege hero

More than 300 pesticides are approved for use on fruit and vege grown in New Zealand. However, some of the products we’re using have been banned in other countries because of their toxicity. With our rules lagging behind, these chemicals can turn up in our food.

We tested 16 locally grown fruit and vege, both organically and conventionally grown, for more than 200 pesticides. Sixteen pesticides were detected, nine of which are banned in the EU.

Kale raised the biggest flag. Kale we bought from Pak’nSave contained residues of the organophosphate acephate, an insecticide banned in the EU because of concerns about its toxicity. The amount of acephate detected was above the permitted maximum residue levels (MRLs) set for products here.

We also found other pesticides banned in the EU, though at levels below the permitted maximum, on conventionally grown oranges, lemons, green cabbage, potatoes, kumara and strawberries.

None of the organic produce we tested had pesticide residues and no residues were found on the conventionally grown broccoli, capsicum, carrots, flat mushrooms, garlic and green kiwifruit we sent to the lab.

Types of pesticide

There are three main types of pesticides: herbicides, which kill weeds and other unwanted plants; fungicides, which kill fungi such as mildews and moulds; and insecticides, which kill insects.

The insecticides found in our test included organophosphates and pyrethroids. Organophosphates are one of the most controversial group of pesticides. They’re toxic to the environment, especially to insects, birds and aquatic life.

Pyrethroids are synthetic insecticides that disrupt the insect’s nervous system, leading to paralysis and death. There’s emerging evidence that pyrethroids may pose significant risks for our health and the environment.

What we found

No pesticide residues were detected in broccoli, capsicum, carrots, flat mushrooms, garlic and green kiwifruit.

Pesticides found in our test

Insecticides


Fungicides


Herbicides


What are the risks?

Foods are allowed to contain pesticide residues up to the specified maximum residue levels. Under the Food Act, all food produced and sold must comply with the MRLs. However, exceeding the MRLs doesn’t necessarily mean a product will be removed from sale.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), which monitors pesticide residues in foods, said safety margins are incorporated into MRLs and considered there was no food safety risk from pesticide levels in the produce we tested.

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MPI’s own food testing has detected some of the same pesticides in other produce. Interim results from its latest test round, published last year, reported 16 pesticide residues above MRLs in nine foods. These included several organophosphate pesticides banned in the EU: acephate in endive, diazinon in quince and methamidophos in Chinese broccoli.

While MPI considered none of the residues presented an “acute food safety risk”, acephate levels in one endive sample presented a risk of chronic exposure if the food was being regularly consumed. The grower no longer uses acephate.

Environmental effects are the other major concern with pesticides. Some pesticides we’re using are known to have significant environmental risks but research on their impacts in New Zealand is patchy.

A 2019 study, published in Environmental Pollution, measured pesticide concentrations in 36 streams in Waikato, Canterbury, Otago and Southland during the summer of 2017/2018. Three or more pesticides were found at 69% of sites and 30 sites contained chlorpyrifos, a pesticide banned overseas.

Pesticide regulation

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for approving pesticides and setting controls on their use. All pesticides used on fruit and vege must also be registered with MPI.

Growers must keep records of pesticide use. However, regulators don’t routinely monitor the volume of pesticides applied to crops so there’s little data about what’s happening on the ground.

In its 2019 Annual Report, the EPA acknowledged little was known about New Zealand’s chemical landscape or the impact it has on human and environmental health. It plans to develop a “chemical map” with information about what’s used and where, and evidence of harm.

In 2013, the EPA placed tighter controls on acephate, chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides in the face of mounting international evidence about their toxicity. However, according to MPI, some agricultural chemical suppliers and growers remain unaware of these changes and require “reminders”.

Regulators don’t routinely monitor the volume of pesticides applied to crops, so there’s little data about what’s happening on the ground.

Five organophosphates, including diazinon and methamidophos found in our test, are finally being phased out. From July 2023, methamidophos will no longer be able to be imported or made here. Diazinon has a longer phase-out period and will remain available until July 2028.

Four other pesticides in our test are on the EPA’s priority chemicals list for review. There are 39 chemicals on the list and the EPA expects to finish reviewing 25% during 2020. There’s no timeline for when other reviews will be completed, which means some chemicals banned in other countries could remain in use here for years.

The process for reviewing pesticides has come in for flak for other reasons. Victoria University environmental law expert Catherine Iorns believes it’s time to overhaul the rules.

In a 2018 article, published in the Environmental and Planning Law Journal, she argued the current system doesn’t include enough focus on adverse environmental effects and risks were assessed on a single chemical, rather than the cumulative effect of many pesticides.

“We still wait for proof of harm, and a lot of damage is and has been done before that harm is proven … there are no restrictions placed for the health of the ecosystem because we are waiting for that proof,” Ms Iorns said.

Internationally, there are also calls from scientists for tougher controls on pesticides. In January more than 70 scientists published a strategy for insect conservation and recovery, which included phasing out pesticide use.

Raisin results

We also tested imported organic and non-organic raisins. The Ministry for Primary Industries’ 2016 total diet survey reported raisins and sultanas contained the greatest number of pesticide residues.

We didn’t detect any residues in Ceres Organics Raisins or Sun Maid Natural California Raisins (both from the US). Seven residues were found in Cinderella Baking Raisins, though none were above the MRL. One (cyhalothrin) is banned in the EU.

  • Ceres Organics Raisins (USA)
    No residues detected
  • Sun Maid Natural California Raisins (USA)
    20feb pesticides in fruit and vege raisins

    No residues detected

  • Cinderella Baking Raisins (Turkey)
    Residues detected:
    • azoxystrobin 0.041mg/kg (MRL 0.9mg/kg),
    • cyhalothrin 0.055mg/kg (MRL 0.3mg/kg),
    • cypermethrin 0.026mg/kg (MRL 0.5mg/kg),
    • cyprodinil 0.095mg/kg (MRL 5mg/kg),
    • fludioxonil 0.034mg/kg (MRL 2.2mg/kg),
    • indoxacarb 0.085mg/kg (MRL 5mg/kg),
    • pyrimethanil 0.061mg/kg (MRL 5mg/kg)

Rolled oats

Several members asked us to test rolled oats for glyphosate (aka Roundup) so we sent eight products to the lab.

Glyphosate wasn’t detected in six products including the four organic oats we tested: Ceres Organics Rolled Oats Jumbo, Chantal Organics Jumbo Rolled Oats, Harraways Organic Rolled Oats, The Commonsense Pantry Organic Coarse Oats, Uncle Tobys Rolled Oats Traditional and Creamy and Countdown Australian Rolled Oats.

However, two products – Harraways Oats Rolled Oats and Pams Rolled Oats – contained glyphosate residues above the MRL of 0.10mg/kg. Both had glyphosate levels approximately three times higher.

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Both brands come from the same supplier. In response to our results, the companies conducted their own testing, which found eight products (with different production dates) had an average glyphosate level below the MRL (0.081mg/kg). Two products were above the MRL (0.11 and 0.15mg/kg).

Harraways chief executive Stuart Hammer said the company routinely tested glyphosate levels and past results found its oats fluctuated around the MRL. “Harraways has a process in place to supply glyphosate-free oats. In 2019, we asked our growers to voluntarily not use glyphosate on crops. However, for the 2020 season, growers have signed legally enforceable contracts not to use any form of chemical defoliant, including glyphosate,” Mr Hammer said.

Both companies anticipate their oats will be glyphosate-free by the end of 2020.

The Ministry for Primary Industries considered the levels of glyphosate we found “indicated no food safety concern”. In 2015 and 2016, it tested pea and wheat crops for glyphosate, and found residues in 26 of 60 wheat samples. Twenty were above the MRL though MPI considered there was “no food safety concern”.

Member comments

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andrea h.
02 May 2020
Systemic pesticides

Just wondering if this study takes Into account systemic pesticides ?
“ Systemic pesticides are chemicals that are actually absorbed by a plant when applied to seeds, soil, or leaves. The chemicals then circulate through the plant's tissues, killing the insects that feed on them. ... Unlike with traditional insecticides, you can't wash or peel off systemic pesticide residues”

Consumer staff
07 May 2020
Re: Systemic pesticides

Hi Andrea,

We tested for more than 200 pesticides, which included both systemic and non-systemic pesticides. Of the pesticides we found, a number were systemic such as acephate and cyprodinil.

Kind regards,
Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Stuart M.
15 Mar 2020
Where is New World

Its great to see Consumer looking at environmental/health issues, and this is a major one. But would have been useful to get an assessment of ALL the supermarket chains - the report essentially focuses on Countdown and PaknSave. New World is a big chain - how do its veges and fruit test out? Thanks

Stephanie S.
11 Mar 2020
Thank you!

I think this is a good report and as I often say NZ lags behind, ingredients that are banned in EU are found in NZ packets of food. The residue tests are great, as we can now reduce our intake of these. For those that disagree with the article well they obviously haven't read the articles and studies done on links to pesticides and herbicides to health complaints. Carry on the good work Consumer, looking forward to more 'Green' articles.

Rose M.
09 Mar 2020
Biased Testing

The concept of testing fruit and vegetables available in supermarkets in New Zealand for residues is a good one. However, the way this report reads it is a PR exercise for Commonsense Organics, and makes an absolute mockery of the supposedly independent nature of Consumer.

Roger F.
08 Mar 2020
Chemophobic Rubbish

I have been a member on and off (mainly on) since the 1970s. To see Consumer descend to promoting this chemo-phobic nonsense is making me think hard about renewal.
The EU also bans bent bananas (or was it cucumbers?) and hair driers of more than 700W rating (/sarc).
The EU banning something is almost a guarantee of environmental activism and weak-willed politicians blighting our lives with nonsense rather than real problems being solved.
All of those recommended limits (for exposure to X or Y) are 10 or 100 times lower than the concentrations experimentally shown to have any measurable effect at all. Remember the dose causes the effect.

D L.
08 Mar 2020
Appalled by Glyphosate levels in Harroways rolled oats

For over 30 years I have brought Harroways rolled oats on the basis of supporting a Kiwi grown product, that is supposed to be good for ones health, and was appalled to learn that I have apparently been dozing myself daily with Glyphosate at up to 3 times the recommended limit. From your investigation it seems that Harroways have known about excessive Glyphosate levels in rolled oats while continuing to market the product - why? I will not buy a Harroways product again and Australian grown Uncle Toby's Glyphosate free rolled oats is now the daily fare.

Leigh C.
07 Mar 2020
Sad

I'm so disappointed. I just joined Consumer to try and put some fact based journalism in my life, and find out you guys are writing this click bait nonsense, just like everyone else. I hope you give MPI and the EPA equally highly positioned space to respond to this ”report”, otherwise you are simply feeding the fake news machine.

Lloyd B.
07 Mar 2020
Please test New World products

As there are only 3 supermarket chains, it would be good to test New World products in future

Kris V.
07 Mar 2020
thanks heaps

thanks for doing this report - doesn't matter if people agree with it or not, what it does do is provide relevant information so we can all make a conscious choice. WOuld be nice to think that all foods in nz could go chemical free one day ... can't come soon enough

andrea h.
07 Mar 2020
Thank you

Well done , thanks for doing this. I hope you will continue this type of testing.
There will always be negative comments from people working in the manufacture of these toxins, and commercial growers that are concerned for their business.

Jane L.
07 Mar 2020
Thank you for this report

Thank a consumer for this work. I will be writing to my local MP to request some action on this, commend the EPA’s work to date but request that they go faster. I would like to see all vegetables safe to eat not just the more expensive organic vegetables.

Alexa B.
07 Mar 2020
Thanks, confirming what I already suspected

Thanks Consumer NZ, id love to see this report be extended to include more foods typically consumed in NZ, rice and green veg as already mentioned.

This report just confirms what I thought and why I use Oooby.co.nz to support local organic farmers!

Bert P.
07 Mar 2020
Have you tested rice for chemical residues or for heavy metals ?

Thanks for this article which covered food grown in New Zealand. Have you tested rice for these chemical residues? Rice is pretty much a NZ stable and the average consumption per New Zealander must be quite high, but its all imported, and quite possibly from countries that don't have the controls and standards NZ does. I have also heard that rice can have high levels of arsenic and maybe other heavy metals. Have you tested imported rice for arsenic and other heavy metals? If not, I think this would be important to do. Have heavy metals ever been an issue for NZ grown produce, or has they not been tested for ?

Consumer staff
11 Mar 2020
Re: Have you tested rice for chemical residues or for heavy metals ?

Hi Bert,

Consumer has not tested rice for chemical residues or heavy metals. Heavy metals are tested as part of MPI’s Total Diet Survey. In the 2016 survey aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and tin were included in a range of foods, including white rice. The report can be downloaded at https://www.mpi.govt.nz/dmsdocument/28976-2016-nz-total-diet-study-with-appendices-report.

Kind regards,
Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Discerninator
11 Mar 2020
Rice - heavy metals and arsenic

Great question - I have just returned from a medical conference where concern was reported about heavy metals and arsenic residues found in rice. Interestingly, brown rice was found to have higher levels than white - presumably the residues are processed off in the production of white rice. The research also found that in the regions where rice was produced with the highest residues, the local populace had a genetic tolerance for the higher levels of arsenic. The same does not go for those of us with genetic dispositions that have evolved outside of regions with naturally occurring higher levels of arsenic.

This is unfortunate given that I've been preferentially eating brown rice for it's higher fibre content! So MPI need to also include brown rice in the above tests.

Wal Marshall
07 Mar 2020
Long term value in such reports

Personally I find this and other similar reports useful and not at all alarmist. Long term they gradually educate the wider public on the reasons for the gradual move by consumers over to organic foods . Better for us, better for the wider environment, and ultimately better for growers as they come to understand that organics can not only be be valuable for their business but ultimately essential for their long term sustainability.

David P.
07 Mar 2020
Pesticides in vegetables

Thanks for a great article. It would be interesting to see more test results for green leafy vegetables, which I understand tend to take up or absorb more chemicals. For example, celery, lettuce, spinach.
Secondly, how do NZ's standards about which products are permitted for commercial use, and the levels permitted, compare to Australia's?

Doug C.
07 Mar 2020
How to reduce risk

Being a disbeliever of the relevance of acceptable limits for toxic compounds in food we set about developing a vegetable based cleaning agent to remove these chemicals. Water was largely a waste of time as these chemicals are not water soluble but we managed to remove nearly all, in some cases down to detection limits. However on trying to sell this product the supermarkets did not want to publicly admit their produce was contaminated. There may be some interest in a household product that might come from this article but there is a general acceptance that authorities know what they are doing when allowing various levels of chemical contamination in food. They are well meaning to be sure but it is not possible to know what you are doing when exposing humans to chemicals, I know as I use this science daily to qualify risks for our scientists. Aside from enlightened self interest it Would be good to have more publicity around this issue - thank you Consumer

Laraine B.
07 Mar 2020
Bananas

Don't they just! You have to eat them while there is a significant amount of green on them or they are dry and t otally unpalatable. When I was a kid bananas got juicer the black they became. That meant banana cakes were a lot nicer than they are today.

Most bananas in the shops need eating the same day.

Leslie O.
24 Feb 2020
Pesticides in Food

Not sure if it has anything to do with sprays but very often Bananas smell and taste horrible

P R D.
24 Feb 2020
Pesticide in Foods

Thank you for this report. It is valued regardless of what possible industry insiders and apologists may say. Please don't allow yourselves to be bullied.
I definitely want to know this information.

Andrew B.
22 Feb 2020
What the EU does is irrelevant.

I'm not sure why you have referenced what the EU bans throughout this article. Arguably, they often don't get it right. The EU also bans gene-edited crops which goes against the strong scientific consensus that they are not only safe but are likely to reduce inputs such as pesticides, fertiliser and water use.

George D.
07 Mar 2020
nz regulations re agri chemicals

remember, NZ was one of the last countries in the world to stop manufacturing and use 2,4,5 T.
it seems we are always lagging behind in this regards. why would anyone want to consume agri chemicals on a regular basis?it seems to me these chemicals are used because the chemical industry has so much sway and consecutive nz governments run scared of the farm lobby

cecilia r.
22 Feb 2020
definition of safe mushrooms

you say flat mushrooms are ok. please clarify what is a flat mushroom. does this mean button (white regular) are not ok?
thanks

Consumer staff
24 Feb 2020
Re: definition of safe mushrooms

Hi Cecilia,

We only tested flat brown mushrooms - not white button mushrooms.

Kind regards,
Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Gary B.
22 Feb 2020
Sloppy work from Consumer

As a very long time member I'm sad to see such a sloppy report. Where is the data, as is presented in the NZ Total Diet Study? Who was the lab? What protocols did they use?

Few substances are 'banned', whether in the EU or elsewhere. They are simply not registered for use, for many reasons including there being no market demand, no need (different climate, different pests etc) to impacts on species we don't have here.

As it stands, this report provides no information of use to the consumer, and simply scare mongers and demonises perfectly safe and healthful food.

Consumer staff
24 Feb 2020
Re: Sloppy work from Consumer

Hi Gary,

Testing was conducted by an accredited laboratory. Test results were sent to MPI and MPI advised there was no food safety risk from the levels found in the produce we tested. The report discussed data from MPI’s plant-based foods Food Residues Survey Programme, which tests for chemical residues found in food sold in New Zealand. In the case of some pesticides, they have been banned in the EU – rather than not registered for use. For example, chlorpyrifos was banned earlier this year.

Kind regards,
Belinda - Consumer NZ writer

Gary B.
07 Mar 2020
Poor response

Thanks for the response Belinda. Unfortunately, this it does not reflect the reality and continues to ill-inform the many confused, as is clear from the comments to this article.

Acephate is NOT banned in the EU (and so what if it was when it's approved for use elsewhere, including the US, especially as it's well-known that the EU wrongly invokes the flawed precautionary principle?). The EU status is 'not approved'. Likewise for chlorpyrifos. (https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/eu-pesticides-database/public/?event=activesubstance.detail&language=EN&selectedID=909)

There is information on acephate toxicity here: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Acephate#section=Toxicity

The headline of this article should have been "All foods we tested were safe to eat".

What Consumer should be doing is calling out the rort that is organic production. You should be pointing out that people buying organic food are wasting money and contributing to increased land use for agriculture. You should be highlighting the higher levels of natural toxins in some organic produce, the greater suffering of animals when disease infects them, and the greater risk to consumers from pathogens.

You should not be demonising ANY foods, but if you insist on doing so, it should be organic production.

Pamela L.
22 Feb 2020
Wow

Thanks so much for looking at this. Disturbing!

Jeavons B.
22 Feb 2020
Pesticides in fruit and vege

A very useful report for me in choosing food products.