Lebanon News

High pesticide levels found in local produce

Strawberries are displayed on a cart in Beirut, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The Consumer Protection Department of the Economy and Trade Ministry reawakened old food concerns Wednesday, warning shoppers that recent tests showed signs of pesticide overuse in locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Tests conducted by the Consumer Protection Department of the ministry revealed that some products had dangerous levels of pesticides, some containing chemical deposits from pesticides banned in Lebanon.

The warning comes after a similar food poisoning scare swept the country in 2009, when high levels of pesticides were detected in locally grown fruits and vegetables, including grapes, strawberries, potatoes and apples, some of which contained nearly 25 times more chemicals than the limit set by international standards.

In response to those reports, experts in 2010 called on the Agriculture Ministry to instruct farmers on how to use pesticides, and when to use them. At the time they blamed a lack of government initiative and inadequate food safety legislation for the failure to monitor farmers’ liberal use of pesticides.

Authorities heeded the recommendation of the experts in August of that year when a joint campaign by the Economy and Agriculture ministries led to a significant decline in the percentage of pesticide deposits found in local produce.

Successive tests following the campaign demonstrated that farmers recognized the dangers posed by pesticides and the necessity of using them prudently during harvest season, according to the statement, with results finding contamination in just 1 out of 53 samples.

However, nearly four years later, some farmers have fallen back to their old toxin-using ways.

“In the last few months findings indicate that farmers have reverted to chaos [in their free use of pesticides], and the Lebanese should be warned,” a statement from the Consumer Protection Department said.

The most recent tests were conducted at the Agriculture Ministry’s pharmacology laboratory in Kfarshima in Baabda, with samples including strawberries, arugula, swiss chard, parsely and chicory.

The produce was gathered from different neighborhoods in Beirut, such as Raml al-Zarif, Zaidanieh and Burj al-Barajneh, as well as Shoueifat in Aley, and the Baabda towns of Mreijeh, Hadath, and Kfarshima.

Results indicated that of the 15 samples tested, seven contained pesticides, with four exhibiting dangerous levels. Two were found to contain deposits from the pesticides carbendazim and cadusafos, which are banned in Lebanon because of their toxicity.

The department said in a statement that its officials have observed persistent smuggling of banned pesticides despite bans. They also expressed alarm at the growing quantities of imported pesticides available in the market.

In their investigations, department officials also approached experts to ascertain the reasons for the recent rise in pesticide use. “The main reason was attributed to insects developing immunity to the pesticides, which caused the chemical products to be used in increased quantities, unleashing a vicious and fearful cycle,” the department’s statement said.

In order to prevent another food poisoning scare, the department urged the Agriculture and Environment ministries develop a comprehensive strategy to break the cycle of harmful pesticide use and encouraged farmers to adopt a chemical-free pheromones strategy which uses hormones to lure insects.

The department also recommended using other predatory insects in crops to combat agricultural pests, warning that the failure to tackle the problem using toxin-free methods would mean the efforts of the past four years to reform pesticide use would have gone to waste.

“Scientific studies have proven that farmers and their families are the group most at risk to the dangers posed by pesticides,” the statement added.

The accumulation of these chemicals day after day, through breathing contaminated air and eating contaminated foods, can lead to numerous diseases like leukemia, cancer and other side-effects like congenital malformation, the statement said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 23, 2013, on page 4.




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