‘Forever chemicals’ found in popular UK fresh produce

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

'Forever checmicals' appear in more than half of UK food, claims PAN UK. Image: Getty, Simonkr
'Forever checmicals' appear in more than half of UK food, claims PAN UK. Image: Getty, Simonkr

Related tags Agriculture

Commonly eaten fresh fruit and vegetables in the UK contain PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) pesticides linked to a range of serious health problems, according to the Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

These so called ‘forever chemicals’ are able to persist in the environment and accumulate in the blood, bones and tissue of living organisms. Estimates of the time it takes for them to fully degrade in the environment range from a decade to 100 years.

Analysis of the latest results of the UK government’s residue testing programme found that 10 different PFAS pesticides were present in spices and a range of fruit and vegetables, with strawberries the worst offenders – 95% of samples contained PFAS pesticides.

Various peer reviewed studies in other countries claim a connection between PFAS exposure and a range of serious health problems, including an increased risk of cancer and decreases in both fertility and the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

Health issues

Pan UK policy officer Nick Mole said: “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.

“With some plastic food packaging also contaminated with PFAS, and PFAS present in UK drinking water and soil, we urgently need to develop a better understanding of the health risks associated with ingesting these ‘forever chemicals’ and do everything we can to exclude them from the food chain.”

There are 25 PFAS pesticides currently in use in the UK, six of which are classified as ‘Highly Hazardous’. The list includes the insecticide lambda-cyhalothrin which is highly toxic to both humans and bees.

Designed to be toxic

“Pesticides are the only chemicals that are designed to be toxic and then released intentionally into the environment,”​ Mole added. “Despite this, the UK government’s much-delayed plans for limiting the negative impacts of PFAS focus solely on industrial chemicals, ignoring pesticides entirely.

“PFAS pesticides are absolutely unnecessary for growing food and are an easily avoidable source of PFAS pollution. Getting rid of them would be a massive win for consumers, farmers and the environment.”

PAN UK has called for the government to urgently ban the 25 PFAS pesticides currently in use and increase support for farmers to help them end their reliance on chemicals and adopt safer and more sustainable alternatives.

Meanwhile, the Environment Committee called on the EU to reduce the use of all chemical pesticides by at least 50% by 2023, with MEPs voting in favour of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation.

Food containing PFAS pesticides


Source: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food

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