Pesticide testing in Australia, which routinely picks up chemicals in fresh fruit and vegetables sold locally, picks up far fewer offenders than a government study in 2013.
The unpublished results of a 2013 pilot study of the National Product Monitoring System (NPMS) were disclosed by the Federal Department of Agriculture under freedom of information laws.
The study was suspended by the previous coalition government despite some worrying results.
Testing of strawberries revealed samples up to 90 times the maximum residue limit (MRL) set for dimethoate, while one apricot sample and nine peaches samples contained levels of the now-withdrawn pesticide fenthion that were “unacceptable from an acute or short nutritional risk perspective.” Term. “.
The study also looked at the adequacy of the self-regulatory system operated by fruit and vegetable wholesalers, known as FreshTest.
The federal government conducts a national residue survey that checks for pesticides in exported meat and some fruit, but monitoring of food sold in Australia is left to industry.
Under FreshTest, farmers are tested once a year as part of their food certification. They know when they will be tested and submit the sample to FreshTest.
By contrast, the department’s 2013 pilot program on strawberries, peaches and apricots involved buying farmers’ produce indiscriminately at wholesale markets in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, without warning.
The department detected more MRL violations than FreshTest over the same period.
The department also disclosed agricultural chemicals that were never found by FreshTest.
In a survey of peaches and apricots, FreshTest found one sample above the MRL for dimethoate out of eight detections for that chemical. The departmental survey found four samples above the MRL out of five detections.
In the case of fenthion, which has now been withdrawn from use in Australia, FreshTest detected 32 cases and there were no violations. The department found 66 disclosures and 12 violations.
The FreshTest survey did not reveal any samples with thiabendazole. The department’s poll found three, maxing out.
The documentation indicates that the discrepancies are not surprising, given the different sampling methods. FreshTest gives farmers notice when they’re going to be tested, allowing them to reduce their pesticide use and adhere to ban periods.
Regarding apricots, the department writes: “There were clearly significant differences, the most striking of which is the detection of carbohydrate dimers at a high rate in the NPMS survey, but not at all in the Farm-Fresh survey. This difference is very significant. The other differences are much weaker.”
Jill Woods, managing director of Fresh Markets Australia, which operates FreshTest, said the information in the NPMS relates to operations that have been around for more than a decade.
“FreshTest® is an independent fee-based commercial service provided by Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) providing chemical residue and microbial testing to industry,” it said.
FreshTest® uses only NATA (National Testing Authorities Australia) accredited laboratories of which there are a number across Australia that offer residue testing.
“Test integrity is of paramount importance to FMA, and is supported by a rigorous system of sample collection, identification, labeling, and reporting.”
It did not elaborate on the methodology. FreshTest test results are not publicly available.
“As the industry demands, the products used by growers and the regulatory environment have evolved over the past 22 years, so has FreshTest®. For example, we are now able to test more than 460 [agricultural] chemicals in one test compared to fewer than 100 in 2001, Woods said.
“The completion of product residue testing is a validation of the company’s ongoing chemicals management and treatment programs.”
State and territory governments have a responsibility to monitor the use and misuse of pesticides.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, which is responsible for setting the standards, said the most recent Australian Total Food Survey, released in 2019, found concentrations of the chemical contained in food to be generally low, with a significant proportion of food samples having no detectable residue. . It was based on samples collected in 2013 and 2014.
The spokesperson said: “The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and FSANZ are taking action to review chemical permits and MRLs as relevant data supports the need to do so.
“For example, approved uses for fenthion have been removed and there are no residue limits for leftovers in the Code,” they said.
The Department of Agriculture said the final report of the Independent Review of the Pesticide Regulatory System recommended the establishment of a national program to monitor domestic products.
The department also recently asked a consultant to identify available data sources on pesticide use, residues in food, and environmental exposures.
“The government is currently studying the final report and its recommendations,” a government spokesman said.