Pesticides and pesticides, more contaminated foods: Legambiente report

Pesticides and pesticides present in food and on our tables: 6085 samples underwent analysis of fruit, vegetables and animal products.

Thanks to the updated Legambiente dossier – a unique screening of its kind – from the processing of data provided by the Regions and the relevant bodies, it is now possible to identify what are the most contaminated foods?often brought to our tables frequently and without the necessary attention.

The most contaminated foods

According to what is reported in the report that Legambiente prepares in collaboration with Alce Nero every year – “Stop pesticides on the plate”, in line with the trend of previous years, the category most affected by the presence of residues was fruitreaching 67.96% of samples with one or more residues.

Specifically, the types of foods most affected by the presence of pesticides were found to be, in descending order:

  • pears (84.97%);
  • peaches (83.00%);
  • apples (80.67%).

In exotic fruit (bananas, kiwis and mangoes) the highest percentage of irregularities was found, equal to 7.41%.
This is clearly superior to other types of foods.

As for the vegetablesa greater presence of residue-free samples was observed, equal to 68.55%, with a percentage of irregularities of 1.47%.

The foods in this category most affected by the presence of pesticides were:

  • peppers (53.85%);
  • salads and tomatoes (both at 53.14%);
  • leafy vegetables (38.12%) such as spinach, chard and cabbage.

Among processed foods, however, there is an extremely low percentage of irregularities, equal to 0.67%, while the percentage of foods with one or more residues is 36.22%. The transforms with the highest percentage of residues were found to be i processed whole grains (wholemeal flours and pasta) with 71.21%, followed by wine with 50.85% of samples having detectable traces of pesticides.

Residues also in wine

Not just food, Legambiente also analyzed 354 wine samples and, processing the results obtained, it is clear how frequent the use of multi-residues is (26.55%), compared to a percentage of samples without residues equal to 48.87%.

Furthermore, the presence of at least one pesticide was found in 73.17% of the grapes analyzed. A slightly decreasing trend compared to last year (88.3%), with a percentage of multi-residue significantly higher than single-residue (62.20% vs. 10.98%), counting over 27 different types of pesticides. In table grapes the most frequent residues were: Fluxapyroxad (10.00%), Metalaxyl (9.17%) and Acetamiprid (7.50%).

As for wine, I am 15 pesticides were found, reaching a maximum of 6 in the same sample. The most frequently found active substances were: Dimetomorph (32.38%), Fenhexamid (18.10%), Metalaxyl (16.19%).

Hazardous substances in packaged products

In addition to the risks linked to the use of substances beyond the limits for the production and cultivation of food, the Legambiente report also focused on the packaged productsunderlining how one has emerged in recent years significant concern regarding the safety of packaging plastic food products due to the presence of chemical substances potentially dangerous to human health.

It has in fact been ascertained that these substances are able to migrate into foods depending on the exposure time, temperature and quantity of fats present in the food.

Despite the stringent legislation, especially in past years, packaging containing substances capable of migrating into foods. Among these, we highlight bisphenol A (or BPA), an additive globally recognized as an endocrine disruptor (EDC) as it is capable of altering the hormonal, homeostatic and reproductive systems especially in the early stages of development and even seems capable of increasing susceptibility to development of breast tumors due to its high fat solubility. For this reason and following the evaluation provided by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) in 2010, it was prohibited for the production of baby bottles and, more generally, baby products. However, it is important to underline how this continues to be used for production of cans and packaging.

The substances detected

According to what is reported in the Legambiente report, the percentage of samples in which traces were found pesticides in the foods that arrive on the tables of Italians every day is decreasing.

Specifically, the presence of pesticides compared to last year (39.21% against 44.1% last year).

However, 59.18% of the samples were regular and without residues (last year they were 54.8%), while in organic products residues were found in only 1.38% of the samples.

However, what raises concern is the fact that, albeit within the legal limits, traces of a pesticide and in 23.54% of different residues. The substances found in the analyzed samples are 95. Specifically, these are active substances coming from pesticides.

On the data front coming from agriculture conventional (5940 samples), a very low percentage of irregular foods emerges, equal to 1.62% of the data. It is important to remember that this category includes all foods in which the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) has been exceeded or those in which the presence of a substance not permitted for the matrix being analyzed or a pesticide revoked by the market.

The data highlights that 59.18% of the foods are regular and free of residueswhile in 39.21% of the samples analyzed traces of one or more pesticide residues were detected with a percentage of single residue equal to 15.67%, against a multiresidue of 23.54%.

The most commonly detected pesticides they were insecticides and fungicides, specifically and in decreasing order: Acetamiprid, Fludioxonil, Boscalid and Dimethomorph. While the presence of neonicotinoid residues no longer permitted such as Thiacloprid in peach, grapefruit, blackcurrant, cumin seed and green tea powder samples; Imidacloprid in one orange sample, 2 lemon samples, 3 ocher samples; Thiamethoxam in a coffee sample. Such active substances are particularly dangerous for the health of bees and pollinating insects and their use is no longer permitted by EU Regulations.

The solution

In the framework of the European Green Deal and the concept of sustainable food production “from farm to fork”, clear objectives are defined: to reduce the use of pesticides by 50% by 2030 and to aim for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 But what to do then? What is a possible solution?

According to Legambiente: “Facing this ambitious challenge requires the identification of effective and sustainable solutions”, for this reason “agroecology represents an approach to agriculture that focuses on the sustainable use of natural resources and their integration into the agricultural ecosystem”.

That is, it involves adopting practices that promote biodiversity, soil fertility and the management of agricultural ecosystems. The target in this case it is to preserve and improve through organic fertilization and erosion control techniques. Fertile and healthy soil, in addition to performing its functions optimally, including the ability to support plant growth, water conservation and filtration, hosts a significant number of beneficial microorganisms capable of colonizing the system radical constituting the “rhizospheric microbiota”.

“From experimental evidence we have verified that the use of varieties of potatoes resistant to downy mildew has made it possible to eliminate the use of products while in the case of susceptible varieties more interventions were necessary as happened in the 2023 season characterized by the particularly rainy month of May ”, reads the report.

The use of resistant varieties was therefore integrated into the organic fertilization with compost and minimal processing so, thanks to this integrated strategy, it was possible to produce tubers in quantity and quality equivalent to integrated production without the use of chemical products.

“New perspectives in reduction in the use of plant protection products are offered by the availability of microorganisms and substances produced or derived from beneficial microorganisms” is explained in conclusion. In fact, formulations are available that can replace chemical products in the prevention of a series of diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis in viticulture.

In conclusion, they are available today alternative and innovative means of production whose integration in an agroecological key allows the use of plant protection products to be minimized, but constant experimentation by research organizations is necessary to develop the most effective strategies and provide the world of production sustainable, effective and long-lasting responses.