Limiting chemical residues on apples and pears

The apple and pear industry closely monitors chemical residues on its fruit and, since independent monitoring came into place in 1998, has consistently demonstrated high compliance with approved chemical residue limits.  

Buerre Bosc pears and Royal Gala apples together-800px

 

Apple and pear growers may use different chemical products to protect their trees and fruit from pests, diseases and weeds. This is to ensure undamaged and high quality fruit is supplied to consumers.

Applying these products is usually part of much bigger and integrated pest, disease and weed management plans that help growers limit their chemical use and produce a quality crop of fruit every year. (See more: APAL resources on pest, disease and weed management).

Only products that have been approved for use in Australia by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) may be used by growers. Before approving a product, the APVMA scientifically evaluates if the product will be effective and if and how it can be deployed safely to protect the health and safety of consumers, workers, animals, plants and the environment.

Following their evaluation, the APVMA set maximum residue limits (MRLs); the highest level of a chemical residue that is legally allowed in the fruit.

All approved products have labels that dictate how much, when and under what circumstances they can be used. Growers are legally obliged to follow these instructions and are monitored by state or local authorities to ensure that they do.

As a further check, under the National Residue Survey (NRS) apples and pears are tested for chemical residues against the MRLs in the Food Standards Code. Under the survey, which is independently run by the Australian Government, fruit is tested every year.

Results over the last ten years show that the industry has exceptionally high compliance – that is, the vast majority of samples tested are well within the approved limits.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand and other Australian government agencies also monitor the food supply to ensure it is safe, and that foods comply with standards for pesticide residue limits.


Q&A – chemical residues

How much pesticide remains on apples/pears by the time a consumer gets them?

In the vast majority of cases there is very little pesticide residue left on fruit by the time it gets to consumers. This is because pesticides are often applied early in the process and by the time the product reaches shelves there is likely to be no residue or very little left on the product.

Apple and pear growers support a chemical residue testing service – the National Residue Survey   – which is independently run by the Australian Government and funded by grower levies. Hundreds of samples of apples and pears are tested every year for chemical residues and the results are compared with maximum residue limits (MRLs) – the highest level of chemical residue that is legally allowed – to see if there are any breaches.

Results over the last ten years show that the industry has exceptionally high compliance – that is, the vast majority of samples tested are well within the approved limits. The latest National Residue Survey results for apples and pears (2016-17) show that 98 per cent of apples and pears tested fully comply with maximum residues limits. For those non-complying samples, follow up action is taken with the supplier to rectify the situation.

It is always good food safety practice to give apples and pears (as with any other fresh produce) a final rinse under running water before eating them, particularly around the calyx (base) and around the stalk. This will help to remove any unwanted residues that may be left on the fruit.

It is always good food safety practice to give apples and pears (as with any other fresh produce) a final rinse under running water before eating them.


Does this mean that 2-5 per cent of apples/pears have levels of chemical on them that are dangerous?

No. An exceedance of an MRL is not necessarily a risk to public health. This is because there are safety factors built into the limit. In other words, the MRL is set well below an amount of chemical residue that would result in a safety concern.

In most cases an acceptable daily intake (ADI) is established for chemicals and used in dietary exposure assessments. The ADI is the amount of a chemical you need to be exposed to every day for your entire life for a health issue to occur.

A one-off exposure to a very small amount of residue is not a safety concern. If consumers are concerned, APAL also recommends washing fruit before consumption to further minimise the small risk of residues being present.

The industry is continuing to strive towards reducing residue and is aiming for 100 per cent of fruit under maximum residue levels for agricultural chemicals.

 


Do the same standards apply to imported apples and pears?

MRLs apply to all food sold in Australia.

Australia imports a very small quantity of raw apples from New Zealand and China, and a few Asian style raw pears (nashi) from South Korea.

Other than most foods from New Zealand, food imported into Australia, including fresh produce and processed foods, are subject to inspection under the Imported Food Control Act 1992. This includes the maximum residue limits (MRLs) – the highest level of chemical residue that is legally allowed – for agricultural and veterinary chemical residues in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

Some imported foods are subject to screening for agricultural and veterinary chemical residues under the Imported Food Inspection Scheme, which is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. Screening occurs at the border upon arrival and if the imports don’t fall under the MRL they must be destroyed, re-exported or treated so they comply.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources currently monitors five per cent of imported fruit consignments for agricultural and veterinary chemical residues and five per cent of canned fruit for lead and tin. This monitoring applies to imported apples and pears but does not apply to apples and pears from New Zealand. This monitoring is funded by importers and is published on the Department’s website. The six-monthly report for January to July 2016 reported 99.6 per cent compliance with analytical tests applied to imported foods. These analytical tests included tests for agricultural and veterinary chemical residues and lead and tin in imported fruit.


Aren’t apples and pears always in the dirty dozen for having the most pesticides left on them?

The ‘Dirty Dozen’ report is prepared annually and reports only on produce from the USA – it has nothing to do with Australian apples.

The report’s findings are widely discredited by reputable and expert scientific agencies and the US Department of Agriculture consistently reports that “residues do not pose a safety concern”. There are a few good reads to further explain this including:  The American Council on Science and Health’s article EWG’s Dirty Dozen List – A Bell Curve For Food Elites (8 March 2017) and the Alliance for Food and Farming’s article EWG Attempts to Re-Spark Interest in Decades-Old “Dirty Dozen” List AFF Repeats Its Call to Read Actual Government Report.

Nevertheless, APAL encourages and promotes the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to manage pests with less pesticides. The industry recognises the need to reduce chemical usage and is responding to it.

DSC_5957-Fuji apples-web

Growers protect their apples from pests and diseases and may use crop protection products to help do this, but they only use approved products and must follow the label instructions.


Will peeling my apples reduce the chances of me eating pesticide residues?

Apples are exceptionally nutritious foods and many of the nutrients and benefits of apples are in the skin. The benefits of eating apples with the skin on far outweigh any small risk of eating an apple or pear with residue on it that exceeds the maximum residue limit (MRL) or the even less likely risk of the apple containing an amount of chemical residue that may be a health concern.

It is always good food safety practice to give apples and pears (as with any other fresh produce) a final rinse under running water before eating them, particularly around the calyx (base) and around the stalk. This will help to remove any unwanted residues that may be left on the fruit.


Acknowledgement

APAL would like to acknowledge the following who provided critical input into the compilation of this information: Chris Williams and Mark Pythian, Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; and James Deller, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority; and Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services and Lorraine Haase, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). And to the growers and people across the industry who shared their ideas and to Currie Communications for researching and compiling the information.

 

By |June 9th, 2017|Chemical use, Hot topics|

About the Author:

APAL is an industry representative body and non-profit membership organisation that supports Australia’s commercial apple and pear growers.