Cornucopia’s Take: The data below comes from a study in the UK, but we have seen a similar rise in the number of pesticides used around the world. Although the amount by weight of pesticides sprayed has been dropping, the chemical cocktails used on conventional produce have become more complex, and the synergistic effects of these chemicals remain largely unknown. It is thought that small doses of many pesticides cause degenerative health issues and, in some cases, may even be more harmful to human health than larger doses. The chemicals in question are prohibited in organic agriculture.
Number of toxic chemicals applied to vegetables has risen 17 fold since the 1960s
by Katie Morley
The number of chemicals applied to supermarket vegetable crops has increased by up to 17 fold in 40 years, data shows, as the organic food industry and scientists have warned that consumers are exposed to a “toxic cocktail” of pesticides.
Figures released for the first time by the Soil Association, which certifies organic food, show the number of toxic chemicals applied to onions, leeks, wheat and potatoes has been steadily increasing since the 1960s.
This is despite industry data showing that the weight of pesticides applied in the UK has halved since the 1990s.
Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine conference on pesticides yesterday, where the figures were unveiled, scientists warned that consuming tiny amounts of many different chemicals on a regular basis could be harmful to human health.
Consumption of “toxic cocktails” of low levels of pesticide cocktails are thought to be linked with degenerative diseases like strokes, heart attacks and cancers.
Speaking at the conference, Prof Anne Marie Vinggaard, division of diet, disease prevention and toxicology, at the National Food Institute, said: “Chemicals can have a mixture effect. They may have no effect by themselves but when mixed have a pronounced mixture effect.
“We are not just exposed to pesticides. We are exposed to a lot of chemicals acting together and we must take account of this cocktail effect affecting the same target audience that the pesticides are.”
The figures were compiled by data firm Fera Science, which used to be a Government arm, and were only made public after the Soil Association paid for them to be released from archives.
Onions and leeks have seen the biggest rise in toxic chemicals applied to them with the number rising 17 fold from 1.8 in 1966 to 32.6 in 2015, the data showed.
Back in 1974 less than two chemicals were applied to an average wheat crop, a figure which rose more than ten fold to 20.7 in 2014.
And potato crops are now sprayed with five times more chemicals than they were in 1975 with the number rising from 5.3 to 30.8 in 2014.
It comes after a chief scientific adviser to the Government recently warned that the assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false.
Dr Michael Antoniou, head of the gene expression and therapy research group at King’s College London, added: “All this evidence shows that you should minimise your exposure to pesticides.
Minimally as a precaution you should minimise your exposure to pesticides. The only way to guarantee that, is by eating organically”
“A long term study of roundup in rats found that the lowest dosage, that was 75,000 times below the recommended dose of glyphosate [a common crop weed killer] had Anatomical Level toxicity leading to fatty tissue liver disease.
Keith Tyrell, spokesman at the Pesticide Action Network UK, said: “There is a huge lack of transparency there and it undermines the public trust in the regulatory system.” “It should be up to the pesticide companies to prove that the pesticide does not cause harm, not up to the researchers to show that there is harm.”