More pesticides on fruits and vegetables no need to panic

More and more fruits and vegetables contain traces of potentially harmful pesticides. It shows research from the Pesticide Action Network (PAN). The study looked at nearly 100,000 pieces of fruit and vegetables in Europe. But do not panic: in the small quantities used in the Netherlands, the substances are not harmful to the consumer.

PAN’s research shows that pesticides were found on 13 percent of vegetables and 29 percent of fruit in 2019, compared to 11 and 18 percent in 2011, respectively. The Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA) tells NOS that there are not yet cause panic if the amount of permitted substances remains below the legally permitted limit.

According to NVWA, this limit is lower in Europe than in countries outside Europe. Professor of toxicology Martin van den Berg from Utrecht University also informed NOS that a small amount of these substances does not pose a risk to consumers.

Strict rules

Marinus Dikboom from Smilde grows leeks, spring onions, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale and says that strict rules apply in the Netherlands. “We are constantly checked for pesticides and other substances. They take samples from us, and if something is wrong there, you just lose your number.”

This is confirmed by Cees Ruhé from Erica from the industry association Greenhouse Horticulture Netherlands. “In Europe, it has been agreed that the countries comply with the rules of the country where the production takes place,” says Ruhé. This means that it is not always clear how many harmful substances other countries use when growing fruit and vegetables. “We have a government that controls, while other countries have governments that have rules, but they do not control,” Ruhé explains.

Seasonal and local

By buying locally or regionally, you as a consumer know for sure that products meet the Dutch requirements. And by buying seasonal products, it will be easier to buy more vegetables and fruits from your own country. “People like to eat blueberries all year round. Fresh blueberries often have to come from the other side of the earth,” says Ruhé.

Dikboom not only grows vegetables, but also sells them in his farm shop. “That’s why I try to sell Dutch cucumbers all year round. They are a little more expensive, but then you have a good product.”

The control is strict, says Dikboom. “As breeders, we are strictly controlled, but in other countries we see things happening that we must not.” Here, ditch water used for irrigation is controlled, according to Dikboom. For example, if there are dead fish in. In other countries, it happens less or not at all, says the breeder from Smilde.

Not a bad apple

Nevertheless, research shows an increase in the number of pesticides in fruits and vegetables. According to Ruhé, this is because plants are grown faster and faster to meet consumer desires. Plants are also becoming more and more vulnerable.

But Dikboom uses fewer pesticides than fifteen years ago. “Vegetables and fruits are actually getting cleaner,” he says. “But it’s up to the consumer, they do not want fruits and vegetables with stains.”


Plants also become more resistant to the agents. “From an emergency, growers will then spray with pesticides again. Growers therefore prefer to use as many different agents as possible,” says Ruhé. For example, plants become less resistant to a particular agent.

Meanwhile, experts are also looking at how they can make the plants stronger themselves, so that fewer pesticides are needed. “But it’s still something of a search,” Ruhé says. Plant breeding can be a solution. This means that positive properties of one plant are added to another plant. Ruhé emphasizes that it is a natural way to grow better plants: “It happens with plants of the same species. That way, you make plants stronger in the natural way,” he explains.

But according to Ruhé, there are even more solutions: “By adapting the fertilizer to plants, you can make sure that insects find them less attractive.”

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