Ban highly persistent pesticide from our food

An insecticide banned in 55 countries has been found in strawberries, lettuce, capsicum and courgettes in survey results released yesterday by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

Three organisations, Safe Food Campaign, the Soil & Health Association and Pesticide Action Network are calling for the Minister for the Environment to use his powers and ban endosulfan in New Zealand.

This latest Food Residue Surveillance Programme looked at lettuce, strawberries, capsicum and mushrooms.

The insecticide detected, endosulfan, is an organochlorine insecticide used on a wide range of fruit and vegetables in New Zealand. It has also been detected recently in tomatoes, tomato sauce, oil, peanuts, salad dressing, cucumber, celery and pears, with the highest amounts in tomatoes. Illegal residues have now been found twice in beef destined for South Korea, resulting in enormous costs for exporters.

The controversial pesticide is currently being reassessed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), who are calling for public submissions before 8th August.

Endosulfan has triggered international action because of its persistence and its ability to accumulate up the foodchain. It has been found all round the world, including Antarctica, in air, birds, groundwater, marine sediments, snow and even the bark of trees. It is also a known endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant, that is, it may have an effect on hormones at minute quantities, and has been linked to breast cancer, birth defects and lowered IQ.

“The whole global food supply is contaminated with endosulfan, and so are humans – endosulfan is found in body fat, breast milk, placental tissue and umbilical cord blood,” stated Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand. “For many people the endosulfan accumulating in their bodies is coming from food residues.”

“ERMA’s proposed decision to keep using this pesticide and contribute to global contamination is irresponsible and embarrassing for New Zealand internationally. This is a clear and urgent case for the Minister for the Environment to override the ERMA decision with powers he has under section 68 of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.”

“It is equally embarrassing for New Zealand that endosulfan is very soon to enter the process for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. We were the last in the world to manufacture 2,4,5-T. Are we going to be the last to continue using this notorious pesticide? There are plenty of different options which better contribute to a clean green New Zealand.”

“An ultra low dose of endosulfan, such as may be in food, may cause changes in hormone function and effects on organ development that often only appear later in life,” said Alison White of the Safe Food Campaign. “The timing of the exposure to the foetus or young child is at least as important as the dose. I recommend that pregnant women and young children especially get these foods organically and lower their risk of exposure.”

“Another highly residual organochlorine pesticide like endosulfan, DDT has caused huge economic costs to New Zealand although long banned. It is now obvious that New Zealand is out of step with the EU and the 55 countries that have already said no to endosulfan. The Minister for the Environment must step in and stop endosulfan use here,” said Steffan Browning of the Soil and Health Association of NZ.

Soil & Health is committed to the removal of organochlorine pesticides and has a vision of an Organic 2020.

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