Pesticide tests are still being sent abroad for analysis despite concerns over the lengthy waiting times for results, the Times of Malta has confirmed.

The fact that pesticide tests were not being analysed locally was first raised last year when this newspaper reported that results often took several days or even weeks to be confirmed.

Samples taken from Maltese produce are sent to labs in Italy, Spain and other EU countries. Industry sources raised concerns that greens sprayed with excessive pesticides could be making their way to the dinner table before results were even confirmed.

“The fruit and vegetables that are tested in Malta cannot be seized unless the test results show they are over the limit. By the time tests are confirmed, most – if not all – of the produce would have already been sold and eaten,” the sources said.

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, which tests for pesticides, had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Water Services Corporation for tests to be analysed in their labs. A spokesman for the WSC told the Times of Malta, however, that although an agreement had been reached with the MCCAA, tests were still being sent abroad, as the local labs had not yet validated the testing methods. He did not say when the tests analysis would start locally.

Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman Ralph Cassar raised concerns over the persisting situation.

“How can a supposedly economically-advanced country fail to have properly resourced laboratories in Malta which will be able to provide timely information to avoid tainted produce getting to the market?” he said, adding that the lack of interest shown by the previous administration had persisted under this one.

Pesticide use by local farmers hit the headlines earlier this month after this newspaper reported that one fifth of tested produce had been over the legal pesticide limit in 2016.

Environment Minister Jose Herrera has since called on the Pesticides Control Board to review the test results and come up with recommendations on ways to curb their excessive use.

Veteran environmentalist Alfred Baldacchino, meanwhile, raised concerns about the board, saying it was made up of the same people who took the tests for the MCCAA in the first place.

The board, he said, was “consistently in favour of allowing farmers to use pesticides”, often with disregard for the impact this was having on the produce, the ecosystem and the water table.

The WSC is also tasked with conducting tests on pesticide residues in local water samples. The spokesman said tests conducted last year had all come back clean.

According to 2007 data, which forms the basis of the current pesticide action plan, local farmers use more than five kilos of active chemical ingredient per hectare of farming land.

At the time, some 87 different substances had been detected on the island, with a combined use of just over 120 tonnes.

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