Wholemeal bread contains more pesticide residues than any other bread type, according to research published yesterday by the UK's Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC), yet the levels are not considered dangerous to human health, writes Lorraine Heller.
The report revealed that pesticide residues were detected in 53 of the 72 'ordinary breads' tested, which included white (37), wholemeal (26) and 'other' (9) bread types.
According to the PRC - an independent body which advises the government, the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) - none of the residues detected exceeded the maximum residue level (MRL), the legal limit of residue permitted.
Dr Ian Brown, chairman of the PRC, said the results "show that the vast majority of our food is residue free or contains residues at levels in accordance with guidelines."
However, some campaign groups argue that consumers are entitled to no contamination at all.
"The MRL is a legal threshold which applies to good agriculture. It is not a safety limit and is irrelevant to health. It is confusing to mention MRL when consumers want to know what is good and what is bad for their health," said Alison Craig, spokeswoman for the UK's Pesticide Action Network (PAN) .
"The long-term, life-time effects on health of these mixtures of pesticide residue are poorly understood, and are especially significant to unborn babies and young children," she told BakeryAndSnacks.com.
The latest results from the PRC are part of a £2.2m annual food and drink monitoring programme and cover testing between July and December 2004.
The pesticides detected in the bread tested were chlormequat (a plant growth regulator used on various crops, including cereals), glyphosate (used as a desiccant on cereal crops), malathion (an insecticide) and pirimiphos-methyl (an insecticide used to control pests of stored grain).
One wholemeal sample was found to contain three residues, while 13 other samples (10 wholemeal, 2 white and 1 'other') contained two residues.
The two organic samples tested contained no residues.
The 'speciality breads' tested included bagels, brioche, ciabatta, naan, pitta, rye and soda bread. Out of the 37 samples, 21 were found to contain residues.
The UK's National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim) has independently monitored pesticide residues in wheat for the past 15 years.
There have been no residue limits above the MRL in wheat for the last ten years," said the organisation.
In a case ten years ago where a residue on wheat exceeded the MRL, the wheat consignment was withdrawn from the market.
"Reaction to such an event may vary depending on the level found and whether it was a statistical error or aberration," said nabim's Charlotte May.
However, PAN claims that regulations are not tight enough. "Most of the time, the enforcement of food law is at best lax," said Craig.