Maltese fruit and veg are the most likely to contain illegal levels of pesticides in all of Europe, a new report has found.
The European Food Safety Authority has confirmed that locally grown produce is more than twice as likely to exceed the acceptable pesticide levels as the EU average.
More than five per cent of the Maltese produce tested by the authorities in 2015 was over the limit for chemicals sprayed by farmers. The EU average was less than two per cent.
The local situation in 2014 was actually twice as bad, the report adds.
Pesticide use in the local agriculture industry has been thrust into the national spotlight since a series of Times of Malta reports exposed how local produce had been found to contain excessive pesticide residues.
The latest figures for 2016, reported earlier this month, have shown that the situation has worsened since the 2015 data was collected in Brussels.
Practically one in five locally grown greens last year contained more chemical residues than it should have, according to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
An exact breakdown of what chemicals are being sprayed and what levels were found has not yet been provided by the local authorities despite numerous requests from this newspaper.
Meanwhile, the EU report says that legal action was taken against an unspecified number of local farmers in 2015 following tests on their produce.
The report is a follow-up on one conducted in 2012 in which the illegal residue levels for the entire European Union remained fairly constant. Malta was not included in that report.
The latest country profile on Malta shows that the number of products with an illegal pesticide rate practically doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year.
The report says the tests were conducted in every Member State on orange juice, table grapes, aubergines, bananas, broccoli, sweet peppers, peas, olive oil, wheat, butter and chicken eggs.
Overall, some 97 per cent of the 84,341 samples analysed across the EU were free of quantifiable pesticide residues or contained levels within the legally permitted range.
The report also admits that the in-depth analysis of the test results was done only after most of the products had already been consumed, meaning the information could not be used to inform consumers of the real risks posed by what is on the market today.
Similarly in Malta, pesticide tests are still being sent abroad, meaning produce with excessive levels may reach people’s tables even before the results are in.
The report found that the majority of the samples, more than two-thirds, originated in the EU. A further 21,747, making up a quarter of the pesticides found, were imported from countries outside the EU. More than 4,146 samples, just under five per cent, were of unknown origin.
The authority reported that across Europe, broccoli was most likely to be over the pesticide limit, with 3.4 per cent of the samples failing the tests. Table grapes came in second at just under two per cent. Illegal levels were rarely found in the processed plant products tested – namely olive oil, orange juice and eggs. No illegal levels were found in the samples of butter.
More than 1,500 samples of food intended for infants and young children were also analysed across the EU. While nine out of 10 contained no quantifiable pesticide residues, the rest were at or above the legal limits.
What does this mean?
The report also delves into the short-term health implications of the chemical residues found in all the samples.
According to the authority, they are believed to be “negligible or within a range that is unlikely to pose a consumer health concern”.
This does not mean that all the products are necessarily safe.
“The authority found that the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residues levels that could lead to negative health outcomes was low, but for a limited number of samples, an acute dietary risk could not be completely ruled out,” the report reads.