More endosulfan residues found in food as ERMA submission period closes

Once again the highly controversial pesticide endosulfan hits the news: more residues have been found in tomatoes and capsicums.

Endosulfan is a highly toxic pesticide used in New Zealand on a range of vegetables and fruit and also used to kill earthworms on sport fields, cricket pitchs, golf courses and bowling greens.

Independent residue testing, commissioned by Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ and the Soil & Health Association, has once again found endosulfan residues in New Zealand produce – this time in capsicums as well as tomatoes. It was found in 50% of tomato samples taken in Auckland, 100% of samples in Wellington, but not in tomatoes on sale in Blenheim or Christchurch. Earlier tests carried out for the organisations had found it in Nelson grown cherry tomatoes purchased in Blenheim. The latest tests also found endosulfan in New Zealand capsicums on sale in Wellington.

Although used in New Zealand, Endosulfan is a particularly persistent insecticide and is banned in 55 other countries. The European Union is proposing a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“These residues are a real concern” said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ. “Because endosulfan is an endocrine disruptor, mimicking the effects of oestrogen, it takes only a very, very low level of exposure to it, such as we are seeing with residues in food, to cause breast cancer cells to grow. In a country like New Zeeland with one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world, such exposure is simply unacceptable.”

“Endosulfan is also linked to birth defects, intellectual impairment in children, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. It accumulates in our bodies and is handed down to the next generation across the placenta and in breast milk, a situation that is regarded as no longer acceptable in countries such as those of the European Union. Endosulfan is the worst pesticide still in use in New Zealand: if ERMA don’t ban this they are never going to ban anything.”

ERMA is reassessing endosulfan and its proposed decision is to allow continued use despite it being banned already in 55 countries. The reassessment has been open to submissions for 6 weeks but closes at 5pm today, Friday.

Both organisations had joined the Green Party and a number of individuals in calling on the Minister for the Environment to override ERMA’s proposed decision to continue all uses of endosulfan. But the Minister declined to do so, saying that he trusted ERMA to make the right decision.

“Lets hope his trust in ERMA is not misplaced,” said Steffan Browning of the Soil & Heath Association. “This toxic, persistent pesticide that is contaminating our food, our soils and our wild remote places has got to go. There are plenty of safer alternative ways of managing pests and earthworms in turf without resorting to endosulfan.”

“New Zealand’s international reputation for clean, green, sustainable agriculture is looking tattered, especially with the repeated findings of endosulfan in beef exported to Korea. DDT, another persistent organochlorine pesticide, has caused New Zealand enough grief and this sister compound endosulfan should now also be banned.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 with food and environment free from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

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