More than 50 dangerous pesticides found in British food
Fears over Sudan 1 have been put in the shade by the discovery of even
more damaging residues in our diet
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
27 February 2005
More than 50 dangerous pesticides contaminate Britain's food, official
tests reveal. All have been found to be poisonous or are suspected of
causing cancer or having "gender bender" effects by international
The revelation - in a survey of official testing results - will heighten
concern about food contamination, after the withdrawal of more than 400
products contaminated with the prohibited dye Sudan 1 from shops and
Concern over the dye, normally used to colour petrol, oils, waxes and
polishes, centres on its suspected role in causing cancer. But some of the
pesticides found in British fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products are
internationally classified as even more likely to cause the disease.
The survey - carried out by the UK branch of Pesticide Action Network last
December - examined the traces of pesticides found in food in tests
carried out by the official Pesticide Residues Committee.
The tests - undertaken in 2002 - found 80 pesticides in food ranging from
apples to aubergines, butter to bread, and chocolate to chicken nuggets.
The survey concluded that 52 of these "have been designated by
international authorities as having harmful effects on health". These
included 33 identified by the World Health Organisation as acutely toxic,
and 28 listed by the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer,
the European Commission and the US Environmental Protection Agency as
Another 12 are suspected by a range of international authorities of
disrupting the hormone system, causing "gender bender" effects, cancers
and reproductive disorders. Three pesticides - chlorothalonil, lindane and
DDT - are identified as more likely to cause cancer than Sudan 1.
The Pesticide Residues Committee says that the levels of pesticides found
pose "no safety concerns for consumers" because almost all are beneath the
maximum residue levels laid down by law. But it admits these levels are
not set to protect health, but to check that farmers are using the
Many experts believe that there is no safe level for a cancer-causing
chemical, and research shows that babies and young children are
particularly at risk from low doses of common pesticides.
Meanwhile, Britain has been reprimanded by the European Commission and EU
countries for failing to give adequate warnings about the Sudan 1 crisis.
They complain that the Food Standards Agency - which has come under attack
at home for its slow response to the crisis - flouted an obligation to
give full details of the products affected under the EU's rapid alert
system for contamination, and merely posted them on its website.
A spokesman for Marcos Kyprianou, the Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection, said the countries were concerned that they "were not given
sufficient information to allow them to act most effectively" in tracking
down contaminated products imported from Britain.
Plus 10 alarming additives in everyday meals
Our diets are crammed with chemical colourings, flavourings and
sweeteners, says food writer Joanna Blythman. Although these additives are
perfectly legal, their effects can be hair-raising. Here she lists 10 of
the worst offenders - along with the foods that contain them
Monosodium glutamate E621
What is it for? Adds flavour to over-processed food and allows producers
to skimp on natural ingredients.
What is it in? Chinese food, potato snacks, cup noodles, tinned meat pie,
tinned soup, lunchbox treats.
What's the problem? Some people's reactions include nausea, headache,
tiredness, respiratory problems and burning sensations.
Chemical colours including E102,Tartrazine, E104, Quinoline yellow, E107,
What is it for? Bright colour.
What is it in? GlacÚ cherries, fizzy drinks, sweets, jellies, tinned
fruit, farmed salmon, trout, sausages, red cheese, cooked meat, alco-pops.
What's the problem? Some provoke extreme reactions in children. Physical
symptoms include nausea, eczema and anaphylactic shock.
Calcium propionate E282
What is it for? Prolongs shelf-life of wheat products by inhibiting the
natural growth of mould.
What is it in? Bread, rolls, croissants, cakes.
What's the problem? Some children start climbing the walls as soon as they
encounter it. Linked with aggressive behaviour, hyperactivity and sore
Propyl gallate and gallates E 310-312
What is it for? Stops fats going rancid as quickly as normal and so
extends the shelf-life of foods.
What is it in? Salami, long-life meat products, frankfurters, tinned soup,
What's the problem? Some authoritative studies on laboratory rats and mice
suggest that there may be a causal link with cancer.
Artificial and natural flavouring
What is it for? Fake flavour.
What is it in? Sweets, crisps, sweet drinks, herbal teas, cakes,
ready-basted meat, sausage, margarine, flavoured waters.
What's the problem? Some components in flavourings have been shown to
cause depression of the central nervous system, bronchial, eye or skin
irritations. Some are carcinogenic in animals.
Butylated hydroxyanisole E320 and Butylated hydroxytoluene E321
What is it for? Stops fats turning rancid.
What is it in? Breakfast cereal, chewing gum, crisps and potato snacks,
biscuits, oils and fats.
What's the problem? Most studies indicate it is safe but some show that it
causes cancer in rats.
Sulphur dioxide and other sulphites E220-28
What is it for? Stops the natural discolouration of foods and bacterial
What is it in? Dried fruits (vine fruits, stone fruits), soft drinks and wine.
What's the problem? It destroys vitamin B1 in food and can cause extreme
reactions, from sneezing and runny eyes to wheezing, asthma and even death.
What is it for? Mildly addictive so helps get buyers hooked on a product.
What is it in? Natural in coffee and tea but is added to colas and chewing
What's the problem? Too much caffeine means your body metabolises calcium
less well so increases risk of osteoporosis. Increases risk of
miscarriages and slows down foetal growth.
Hydrolysed vegetable protein (HVP)
What is it for? Gives savoury taste to over-processed food.
What is it in? Gravy, stock and sauce mixes, ready meals, tinned soup and
stew, vegetarian meat substitutes.
What's the problem? Components include MSG and amino acids from soy or
corn. Studies on baby animals link imbalance of these with brain damage.
Sweeteners (includingE953 Isomalt, E965 Maltitol)
What is it for? Low-calorie sweetness.
What is it in? Low-calorie food, drinks and desserts.
What's the problem? Linked with cancer in lab rats.
"Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets" by Joanna Blythman
is published this month by Harper Perennial