The supermarket chain Nettorama withdrew fresh ginger from its shelves in July because a banned pesticide was found on it. Does that make ginger food unsafe?By Germieke Smits
Ginger is very popular in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. The Netherlands is the largest European importer and trader of dried ginger. Our country also imports a lot of fresh ginger.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands imported around 78,000 tonnes of dried ginger in 2019 and 96,000 tonnes the following year. A further 76,000 tonnes of fresh ginger are added.
The vast majority of that ginger comes from China. In addition, the Netherlands gets the product from, among others, Peru, Brazil and India. From our country, part of it goes to Germany, Poland, France and other European countries.
“We trade around 25,000 tonnes of ginger every year,” says Gerry Li of Vision Fresh, one of the biggest importers. “The strongest ginger comes from Peru and is fantastic to make tea with. A lot of organic ginger also comes from there. Chinese ginger is less strong and can be used in the kitchen.”
No pesticide on dried ginger
Ginger can grow quite easily without pesticides, but growers use them, says Nynke Kramer, associate professor of toxicology at Wageningen University & Research. If the ginger is dried after harvesting, there is no need for a means to keep it fresh for the long journey.
This sometimes happens with fresh ginger – apart from the organic variety. “Companies are responsible for not producing and dealing in unsafe products,” said a spokesman for the Dutch Food and Consumer Safety Authority (NVWA). “They have to check the products themselves.”
Chlorpyrifos is a relatively cheap and effective insecticide and is used on ginger outside the EU.
NVWA randomly tests whether everything is going well. The more often there are prohibited or excessive amounts of pesticides on imported products, the stricter the supervision of these products. Sometimes there are also spot checks, NVWA says.
10 percent of ginger contains too many pesticides
Producers can call on the Food Compass Foundation to carry out spot checks. “We check fresh ginger an average of 35 times a year,” says the foundation. “During the past three years, 10 percent of the analyzes found a substance that exceeded the maximum limit.”
The current system allows contaminated ginger to slip through. “Not all lots that are imported are checked,” says Food Compass.
In July, the EU-banned insecticide chlorpyrifos was found on fresh ginger in Nettorama’s supermarkets. Chlorpyrifos can increase the risk of cancer with long-term exposure and can have an effect on the nervous system and specifically brain development, says Kramer.
“It is a relatively cheap and effective insecticide and is used on ginger outside the EU,” says the university teacher. “It is also possible that chlorpyrifos has been used on other agricultural products grown near the ginger. This is called cross-contamination.”
Gember tegen misselijkheid
Nettorama takes ginger off the shelves
In the summer, the ginger from Nettorama was at such a high level that the risk of acute discomfort could not be ruled out. Nausea is one of the possible complaints. “Then it flies right off the shelves,” says Kramer. The supermarket chain declined to respond to our questions about the incident.
Fortunately, the quantities you normally find are not that large, and large safety margins are added when you set the limits, emphasizes Kramer. “And you can’t eat too much of it quickly, because the ginger is removed from the shelves. The risk of real health problems is therefore small.”