By Zafrir Rinat | Dec.12, 2012

Eleven percent of foods tested were found to have pesticide residues at higher-than-permitted levels, based on findings from over 5,000 samples of 108 types of foods collected between 2006 and 2010.

Eleven percent of foods tested by the Health Ministry were found to have pesticide residues at higher-than-permitted levels.

Although the ministry has said the concentrations of these chemicals pose little risk to the public, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense maintains that the ministry’s findings do not reflect other risks such as children’s sensitivity to pesticides or the cumulative effects of long-term exposure to chemicals.

The ministry’s report is based on findings from over 5,000 samples of 108 types of foods collected between 2006 and 2010, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat and eggs.

The study found pesticides in 56 percent of foods tested, with some foods testing positive for tens of different types of residues. An analysis of a tomato, for example, revealed 50 kinds of pesticide residues; a cucumber sample yielded 30 types; and an analysis of parsley found 46 kinds of pesticides.

Based on daily food consumption patterns, the Health Ministry extrapolated the average Israeli’s exposure to these pesticides, and compared them to various health standards for pesticide residue in other countries. Exposure to 27 pesticides exceeded accepted standards. In six of those 27 cases, health risks could not be ruled out.

The Union for Environmental Defense has called on the ministry to reevaluate the risks and devote particular attention to the potential dangers posed to sensitive populations such as babies and children, pregnant women and the elderly.

“The food consumption patterns of these groups, accepted level of daily pesticide consumption and the stricter standards that professional entities around the world use should be taken into consideration,” a representative of the environmental group said, adding that the ministry should also consider the cumulative consumption of chemicals in individual families.

The ministry report noted that the analysis was based on residues in raw products, not what is necessarily consumed after peeling or cooking.

“It can be assumed,” the report added, “that more exact exposure testing would reveal a lower rate of exposure that does not constitute a risk to the consumer.”

Nonetheless, the ministry is recommending a reduction in the use of some of the pesticides and stepped-up enforcement to prevent pesticide use in higher-than-permitted amounts.

“In accordance with this assessment, health risks should be reduced by banning or reducing the use of the most dangerous substances,” it said.

The Health Ministry report also noted that pesticide use was studied in 2008-2011, and that new standards were then established for several substances. As of next year, for example, three organophosphates known to damage the nervous system will be banned. The use of another widely used herbicide, Simazine, is to be limited.