Photo via GeNYU

The National Food Safety and Quality Service, (Senasa) has published results of tests on fruits and vegetables between 2011 and 2013. The government body reported that in 63 percent of cases, traces of waste from agrochemicals (pesticides, fertilizers and the like) were detected.

In January, the NGO Naturaleza de Derechos contacted Senasa asking for results of their studies to be released, which was ignored. When they issued an injunction in order to access the data, Senasa opened the lid on their experiments, carried out on produce markets of Buenos Aires City, La Plata and General Pueyrredón.

Of 3,381 total controls, 1,405 tested positively for traces of agrochemicals (42 percent). Looking at fruit and veg alone, the figure comes to 63 percent.

Among the most extreme cases were celery and pears. 13 out of 14 celery samples and 98 percent of pears tested positive. Citrus fruits were also a big concern; 94 percent of lemons, 91 percent of mandarins and 83 percent of oranges tested positive. Only four foods tested negative: almonds, sweet potatoes, onions and yerba mate.

Do not fear, our beloved yerba was safe... Photo via FM Capital
Do not fear, our beloved yerba was safe…
Photo via FM Capital

Four forbidden substances were found (DDT, endosulfan, Azinphos-methyl and Methamidophos) and another four unauthorized substances (Diazinon, Aldicarb, Acrinathrin and Hexaconazole). Other chemicals, while authorized, were found in foods they should not be used in.

The investigation, which looked at fruit, vegetables, and grains, was structured in two halves. The first part contains data from 2011 to 2013, and the second, information from 2014 to 2016. The issue is, however, that Senasa changed their methodology between the two parts of the experiment, such that it is difficult to draw comparisons and conclusions. What we do know, is that María Gabriela Sánchez, head of Buenos Aires Central Market laboratories, announced in November that there has been a 5 percent increase in the amount of substances unfit for human consumption found over the last two years.

The second part also only noted cases in which levels of chemicals exceeded the Maximum Residue Levels (LMR). This means that the State can mask over some of the presence of the chemicals, by only reporting those going over this limit. It is also worth noting that the LMR limit reached by political (not scientific) consensus. In the second part of the experiment, only raspberries and squash came out negative for these substances. Again, pears and celery came out on top as having the highest level of residual chemicals present.

Naturaleza de Derechos has criticized some of the methodology Senasa used. Firstly, the fruits and vegetable were not tested for traces of Glyphosate, atrazine and paraquat — the 3 most commonly used agrotoxins, alongside 2,4-D, in Argentina. 2,4-D was only tested for in citric fruits, and Glyphosate was only tested for in soy, maize, wheat and peanut samples. Some products were not tested at all, including eggplant, beets, cabbage, broccoli and cucumber.

Mercado Central, Buenos Aires Photo via giraBSAS
Mercado Central, Buenos Aires
Photo via giraBSAS

What more do we need to know?

The stats may sound shocking, but there is still a lot we need to ask:

How significant are the findings? How much of our groceries comes from the markets investigated and how representative are they of Argentina’s average fruit and veg seller? What actually are the impacts of these chemicals on our health, and is the quantity found in the foods enough to have an effect? What even are the results for more recent years?

Senasa still has yet to clarify the frequency with which it carries out its control tests, and what measures it will now implement in light of the results. We would need more independent, peer-reviewed work on the subject to able to draw solid conclusions.

Moving forward, Naturaleza de Derechos have produced a list of “concrete actions” that they will take to combat the problem. These include calling for a label to be put on foods stating its chemical content, and asking Senasa to improve their controls. The NGO — who see their battle against big agribusiness as a fight against capitalism and extractivism — advises consumers, in the meantime, to buy groceries from independent and local produce markets.

For more information, Pharmacologist and Paediatrician Dr. Medardo Avila Vasquez will be giving a talk tomorrow at 6pm, on The Effects of Pesticides on Our Health.