Nearly 73% of non-organic fruit samples analysed in France harboured traces of pesticides, a report has found.
Of vegetables, 41% were contaminated, according to Future Generations, a French NGO that focuses on environmental protection and is known for fighting against pesticides.
The report, released Tuesday, explores the presence of pesticide residues in 52 non-organic fruits and vegetables consumed in France over a five-year period.
Future Generations used official data from France's government-run Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention body (DGCCRF), which analysed food at a supermarket and wholesaler level and not directly in the fields.
A total of 11,103 samples from 19 fruits and 33 vegetables were screened in total.
Which fruits were most contaminated?
Topping the ranking for fruits were grapes with 89% of samples containing pesticide residues.
Following closely behind were clementines, mandarins and cherries (88%), grapefruits (86%), strawberries, nectarines and peaches (83%).
Fruits displaying the lowest levels of pesticides were plums and mirabelles (35%), followed by kiwis (27%) and avocados (23%).
Perhaps more worryingly, 2.7% of the fruit samples displayed pesticide levels above the maximum residue limits (MRLs)—legal thresholds set by the European Union, which vary according to each substance and food type.
Which vegetables were most contaminated?
As for vegetables, celery stalks showed the highest levels of pesticide contamination at 85%.
Fresh herbs followed shortly behind (75%), then chicory (73%), celery roots (72% ) and lettuce (66%).
The least contaminated was beetroot (4%), asparagus (3%) and sweetcorn (2%).
Vegetables showed similar results concerning MRL levels with 3.5% of samples exceeding legal thresholds.
Fresh herbs, celery stalks, Swiss chard and turnips displayed the highest levels.
Inconsistencies in data
Data from the DGCCRF used in the Future Generations report does, however, lack qualitative data on a number of factors.
It does not indicate the concentration of pesticides found in food, their name, their effect on the human body (endocrine disrupting chemicals, carcinogenic pesticides, or otherwise), among others.
With this in mind, it is impossible to determine health effects associated with consuming fruits and vegetables listed in the report.
Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot, epidemiologist and research director at France's National Institute of Agricultural Research, told Le Monde newspaper there is "a risk of regular or routine consumption of a fruit or vegetable that exceeds the MRL for the same pesticide which is unlikely."
"We can be on the alert, but before saying that the situation is dangerous, we need additional information on the pesticides concerned," she added.