Overuse of pesticides in Malta has repeatedly hit the headlines in recent years, with EU-wide studies often flagging what appeared to be excessive spraying of fruit and vegetables by Maltese farmers.
However, since the local authorities last year said they had tweaked the testing methods to make samples more representative of produce available on the local market, the results appear to be far less alarming than previous reports had indicated.
According to the latest European Food Safety Authority report on pesticide use based on locally-conducted tests, just three per cent of samples on the island were over the maximum residue levels permitted at law.
This was a drastic reduction from the more than 13 per cent which were found to be over the limit by local authorities in 2017. And, an even greater departure from results provided by the Maltese authorities later that year that had found nearly a fifth of samples had failed the tests.
After Times of Malta had reported on these test results, several farmers and stakeholders in the local agricultural industry had raised serious doubts over the findings published by the EFSA and Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority which conducts tests on the EU’s behalf.
“This just can’t be – you’re telling me one in every five pieces of vegetables in Malta has too much pesticide? I’ve been active in this sector for decades and I can tell you that figure is way too high,” one veteran farmer and local lobbyist had said.
Malcolm Borg, a deputy director at Mcast’s Institute of Applied Sciences, had also raised an eyebrow at the findings telling this newspaper that the samples were hardly reflective of what was available on the local market.
Samples hardly reflective of what was available on the local market
A closer look at the latest EFSA publications shows that around four in five Maltese samples were well below the minimum acceptable level of pesticide residue.
Some 15 per cent were also considered ‘safe’ as they were between the lowest and maximum thresholds.
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 residue levels, 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.