More than a tenth of fruit and vegetables tested at the farmers’ market in Ta’ Qali last year contained excessive chemical pesticides, prompting action by the authorities.

A spokesman for the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority told this newspaper that 133 samples were taken from the Pitkalija last year. Seventeen of them, or 13 per cent, were found to contain excessive and illegal levels of pesticides. A further 19 samples are still being analysed.

Consumers flock to the sprawling market, held at Ta’ Qali on Saturday mornings, for its locally grown produce sold at competitive prices.

Many prefer buying their greens from producers there rather than from supermarkets, opting to eat from farm to table rather than imported alternatives.

The results of last year’s tests, however, appear to indicate that dangerous pesticide use may be on the rise. The results were more than three times the levels reported by this newspaper in 2015.

Pesticides have been linked to a wide variety of health hazards,from headaches andnausea to cancer andendocrine disruption

The spokesman did not give a breakdown of the level of pesticides used or what they were, but assured this newspaper that the producers had all been banned from entering the market to sell their produce for the rest of the season.

Court action had also been taken against them, he said.

The European Food Safety Authority has warned that residues resulting from the use of products intended to protect plant-based food may pose a public health risk.

The EU has regulations on the use of pesticides and maximum levels of residues, which are meant to be followed by farmers in Malta.

Activists campaigning for the reduction of pesticide use worldwide say pesticides have been linked to a wide variety of health hazards, from headaches and nausea to cancer and endocrine disruption.

Also, chronic health effects may occur years after minimal exposure to pesticides in­gested through food and water.

Sometimes, honest farmers get caught in the crossfire of the war on excessive pesticide use.

Last year, this newspaper reported how a strawberry farmer had his fruit confiscated and was barred from setting up his stall at the market after a UK lab found he was 10 times over the pesticide limit.

It turned out, however, that that the lab had tested the wrong part of the fruit (the leaves) and also checked for the wrong type of chemical.

The use of foreign laboratories has long irked sellers who set up stalls at the market, as they argue that the wait for results could mean their produce turns rotten before being given a clean bill of health.

Alternatively, consumers have complained that selling fruit before it is checked could see harmful pesticides making their way onto the dinner table.

Samples are tested in accredited labs across the EU, mostly in Italy and Spain.

Questions sent yesterday to the authority on whether any local labs could conduct the tests and if any had been identified had not been answered at the time of writing.

ivan.martin@timesofmalta.com

17 of 133 samples had excessive pesticide levels. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

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