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Pesticides present in three-quarters of French vegetables, study

Carots and turnips at the Rungis food market just outside Paris RFI/Clémence Denavit

Three-quarters of non-organic fruit and 41 percent of vegetables sold in France contain traces of pesticides, an NGO has found in a study carried out in response to rising public concern about food safety and pollution.

A study of results compiled by France's anti-fraud office, DGCCRF, between 2012 and 2016 found that 72.6 percent of fruit contained traces of pesticides and 2.7 percent were above the legal limit.

Worst affected were grapes, at 89 percent, followed by clementines and mandarins, at 88.4 percent, and cherries, at 87.7 percent.

Cherries were most likely to be over the legal limit, at 6.6 percent, followed by mangoes and papayas, at 4.8 percent.

Pesticide traces were found on 41.1 percent of vegetables, with 3.5 percent over the legal limit.

Celery topped the league, at 84.6 percent, followed by herbs, at 74.5 percent, and chicory, at 72.7 percent.

Some 29.4 percent of herbs were over the limit, as was 16 percent of celery.

The NGO that produced the report, Générations Futures, believes the figures are underestimates, because of the way the DGCCRF compiles its figures.

Health risks limited, experts

Most experts believe that current regulations are sufficient to protect human health.

"There is a risk in cases of regular or systematic consumption of a fruit or vegetable which is over the limit for the same pesticide, which is unlikely," toxicologist Jean-Pierre Cravedi, who head the national agricultural research institute, Inra, told Le Monde newspaper.

"One can be alert but before we can say the situation is dangerous we need more information on the relevant pesticides," epidemiologist Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, who is Inra's head of research, told the paper.

Public concern

Nevertheless, public concern over the use of pesticides has grown in France, as elsewhere.

Générations Futures says that anxious consumers were consulting American statistics in the absence of any French ones.

They reject the idea of a proposed "zero pesticide residue" label for produce that would not necessarily be organic, arguing that it would not guarantee no use of pesticides and would not end environmental pollution, and call for consumers to be given information on all pesticides used in the growing and stocking of produce.

President Emmanuel Macron's government is preparing an action plan to reduce the use of phytopharmaceuticals in farming, after a 2008 campaign failed to produce the hoped-for results.

France and Spain are Europe's biggest users of phytopharmaceuticals.

Last year the government published two lists of pesticides containing endocrine disruptors, which are blamed for the rise in cancers, diabetes and fertility problems.

And France led the charge against an EU a 10-year renewal of authorisation of the use of glyphosates, which resulted in a compromise five-year extension.