Pesticides in currants and gooseberries

Summer time is berry time. The attractive offering of bush fruits at weekly markets and on shop shelves attracts the attention not only of customers but also of consumer protectionists. Maximum residue levels of certain pesticides may not be exceeded in order to protect consumers. A recent study by the environmental organisation, Greenpeace, has triggered a debate.  In this context, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) points out that even when valid maximum levels are exceeded, it cannot be automatically assumed that there is a health risk for consumers. Professor Dr. Ursula Gundert-Remy, Head of the Department Safety of Substances and Preparations within BfR comments, “The setting of these values is based on the minimisation principle. This means as low as possible, no more than is required for the desired use and never higher than is defensible from the health angle”.

In principle, BfR welcomes the fact that Greenpeace addresses topics of major relevance to consumers like residues of pesticides in seasonal fruit. However, when Greenpeace sets about determining the amounts of residues taken up by consumers, it does not draw on the internationally agreed scientific concepts. For instance, the portion of 500 gram for currants and gooseberries – on which it bases its calculations - is far too high. The reason given for this approach is that it can identify the residues potentially bound in the fruits but this does not justify the assumption of such high amounts. Bound residues have already been given due consideration when putting together maximum level proposals for pesticides in foods. Hence, the Greenpeace approach considerably overestimates the amount of pesticide residues taken up from berries.

To determine the levels to which small children are exposed, BfR recommends using current consumption data for this age group rather than the general portion used by Greenpeace for all foods. The BfR assessment in conjunction with marketing authorisation for pesticides and the recommended maximum levels are already based on up-to-date consumption data taken from a food consumption study for children aged between two and five. The daily portions identified in 2001 and 2002 in the VELS study (Food consumption study to identify food intake by infants and small children in order to estimate the acute toxicity risk from pesticides) were used to prepare the model which permits both the assessment of possible acute and also potentially chronic risks. 

BfR is currently in the process of organising the “2nd BfR Forum Consumer Protection – Multiple residues of pesticides in foods” which addresses the problems of multiple residues touched on by Greenpeace. The forum is to be held in late autumn in Berlin. This subject and possible assessment concepts are to be discussed on a scientific level by national and international experts.

The current food consumption data for small children from the VELS study can be accessed on the Internet on menu food.

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