An enforcement programme to crack down on illegal pesticide residues in winter lettuce over 2003/2004, was announced today by Defra minister Alun Michael.
The Annual Report of the Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) for 2002 revealed that of over 4,000 food samples analysed, only one per cent contained illegal residues, and none were judged to present a safety risk to the consumer.
Nevertheless the Department continues to be concerned about residues found in particular on winter lettuce, despite previous action taken to address the problem.
Alun Michael said:
"I recognise consumers need to be reassured that produce does not contain undesirable or unnecessary residues and that good agricultural practice is followed. The evidence shows that the majority of farmers and growers operate well within the bounds of good agricultural practice.
"But although there has been some improvement, the number of undesirable residues found in winter lettuce is still high so we intend to conduct a further monitoring survey of winter lettuce this year, and we will continue to take firm action against growers or retailers where it is necessary to eradicate the problem. Where it is appropriate, legal action will be considered."
The programme will involve sampling winter lettuce at all points in the supply chain, from grower to retailer. Advisers from the Rural Development Service, who are authorised enforcement officers under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, will take samples and make follow up enquiries where necessary.
Winter lettuce grown in the UK under glass is particularly prone to fungal attack during the cool damp winter months and there are only a limited number of products approved for disease control. To advise growers of good practice, the advisory leaflet published for the first time last year and amended in the light of last year's results will be revised.
Some additional notes are provided:
1. The Pesticide Residues Committee is responsible for the routine surveillance programme on pesticide residues in food and feedingstuffs.
2. Enforcement programmes involving sampling on grower's premises have been conducted over the last 9 winter seasons (1994/95-2002/03). However, whilst the overall results for 2002/2003 indicated some improvement in illegal use, surveillance shows that some Maximum Residue Limits are still being exceeded.
3. Maximum Residues Levels are established in the Pesticide (Maximum Residue Levels in Crops, Food and Feeding Stuff) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999 (as amended). They are not safety levels but are a reflection of good agricultural practice. Using pesticides in accordance with the approval conditions would not normally lead to these levels being exceeded.
4. A list of amendments to the advisory leaflet "Protected Lettuce Disease Control Avoiding Pesticide Residue Problems" published for the first time last year, will be sent to all known growers of winter lettuce. Additional copies of the leaflet will be available on the PSD website and hard copies will also be available from Information Services branch at PSD.
5. Results of the winter lettuce monitoring programme for 2002/2003 are available on the PSD website at: www.pesticides.gov.uk/citizen/residues/enforcement/enforcement_residues_monitoring.htm