The latest report from the UK's Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) has raised fresh concerns about residues being found in apples sold at retail, and in fruit supplied to schools under the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme.
In the quarter ended June 30 2007, the PRC looked at samples from 22 difference foods: apple juice, apples, cabbage, celery, chocolate, grapes, kiwifruit, leeks, lettuce, milk, peaches & nectarines, pears, potatoes, raspberries and blackberries, soft citrus, speciality fruit, strawberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, trout and salmon, sweet potatoes and yogurts.
It reported that 32 of the 1053 samples had above-maximum levels, but denied any health risk.
In cases where above maximum levels were detected, the committee said it has conducted careful assessment, including of risk assessments.
"In every case the presence of these residues would be unlikely to have had any effect on the health of anyone who ate the food," said Ian Brown, chairman of the committee.
However apples were seen to be some cause for concern for some.
Seventy four per cent of apples sold by retailers contained pesticide residues, and 50 per cent contained more than one pesticide.
"We are also alarmed to see a continuation of the 'cocktail effect' of pesticides - multiple routes of exposure to agricultural chemicals, exposure to similar chemicals through other routes, and exposure to multiple residues in food, the impacts of which, are not fully understood in relation to the possible damaging effects on the human body," said the Soil Association.
Moreover, one of the apple samples showed up residue from iprodione at a level of 0.04 (MRL 10 mg/kg). This pesticide not approved for use on these fruit in the UK.
The PRC said, however, that iprodione is not an uncommon finding.
"Based on previous cases we are aware that the industry believes these residues arise from crosscontamination from storage bins and grading facilities used jointly by the pear industry, and not from illegal use," it said.
Nonetheless, it has written to the supplier of the UK sample, and to apple industry organizations, and they have brought the matter to the attention of their members.
No received comments were included in the appendices.
The Soil Association said it is particularly shocked that all of the samples of fruits supplied to schools under the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme contained residues. The scheme supplied over 400 million pieces of fruit to 16,000 schools in 2006.
Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, said: "We have had endless assurances from the Government that fruit provided to schools is as good as that sold by supermarkets. The repeated failure of the Government to get pesticides out of the fruit they supply to schools is a scandal".
The PRC, meanwhile, has said that technological improvements have allowed it to expand the range of pesticides it looks for in its fruit and vegetable surveys from 129 in 2006 to 200 this year.
"For this reason we may in future find more residues and multi-residues in single samples," said Brown.
The PRC is made up of a group of experts who oversee the government's pesticide residues surveillance programme.
It provides advice to ministers, the Pesticides Safety Directive, and the Food Standards Agency on planning of surveillance programmes for pesticide residues in the UK food supply and the evaluation of the results.
It also provides information on procedures for sampling, sample processing, new methods of analysis, the assessment of variability of pesticide residues in food and related issues.