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New report identifies fruits and vegetables laden with pesticides, drives experts to call for regulations: 'It is deeply worrying'

"No one gave their consent to be exposed to these harmful chemicals."

"No one gave their consent to be exposed to these harmful chemicals."

Photo Credit: iStock

A study showed that common food items in the United Kingdom are contaminated with PFAS pesticides.

What happened?

Fruits, vegetables, spices, and beans were found to include the residue of 10 per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or "forever chemicals," which can remain in the environment for thousands of years and have been linked to cancer, fertility and immune problems, and developmental delays and behavior changes in children.

The Pesticide Action Network UK used data from the government's Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food, which annually tests about 2,500 1-kilogram samples of food from supermarkets and other stores. PFAS pesticides were detected in more than 1 in 3 samples of strawberries (95%), grapes (61%), cherries (56%), spinach (42%), tomatoes (38%), and peaches/nectarines (38%), as well as in eight other produce items.

Previous research detected 31 PFAS pesticides in European produce from 2011 to 2021, but the highest figure of contamination was only 37% (again in strawberries).

Why is this concerning?

PAN UK reported that PFAS pesticide pollution in the environment is unknown because the Environment Agency does not test rivers for PFAS. Of the 25 PFAS pesticides used in the U.K., six are classified as "highly hazardous."

The science is far from settled about PFAS, but that might be because this is a relatively new issue. The chemicals have been found to contaminate drinking water and are present in hundreds and perhaps thousands of everyday items, including cookware, clothing, and cosmetics

"Given the growing body of evidence linking PFAS to serious diseases such as cancer, it is deeply worrying that UK consumers are being left with no choice but to ingest these chemicals, some of which may remain in their bodies long into the future," PAN UK policy officer Nick Mole said in a statement, adding that plastic food packaging, as well as soil, contain PFAS.

What can be done?

As is true in similar situations, eating and living as cleanly as possible is the best way to avoid these harmful toxins. 

Mole said PFAS pesticides are "absolutely unnecessary" for growing food and that eliminating them "would be a massive win for consumers, farmers and the environment."

PAN UK asked the government to ban the 25 PFAS pesticides and help farmers find sustainable alternatives to the chemicals. It added it supports nongovernmental organizations that have called for a PFAS-free economy by 2035.

"PFAS are a group of entirely human-made chemicals that didn't exist on the planet a century ago and have now contaminated every single corner," said Shubbi Sharma of CHEM Trust, which hopes to prevent long-term harm to humans and wildlife by replacing synthetic chemicals with safer options. 

"No one gave their consent to be exposed to these harmful chemicals, we haven't had the choice to opt out, and now we have to live with this toxic legacy for decades to come. The very least we can do is to stop adding to this toxic burden by banning the use of PFAS as a group."

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