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Study Finds Low Pesticide Levels

28 September 2000

Study Finds Low Pesticide Levels

THE level of the fungicide benomyl in the food supply is less than 0.19 per cent of the World Health Organization's acceptable daily intake, a Ministry of Health survey has found.

Chief Advisor Safety and Regulation Dr Bob Boyd said the survey showed levels are significantly lower than the amount which would adversely affect human health.

Benomyl is commonly used internationally on a wide range of foods particularly fruits, vegetables and plants. It prevents fungal disease and damage to crops.

"The survey findings assure us that benomyl is not posing a health risk through the food supply. Benomyl residues were only detected in five of the 86 samples taken and the levels were very low," Dr Boyd said.

"The survey also showed that New Zealand levels are significantly lower than the only other comparable international data on benomyl, in the UK," Dr Boyd said.

The benomyl findings complement the Total Diet Survey released by the Ministry in March.

ENDS

For further information contact; Sue McCabe, Media Advisor, 04 496 2067 or 025 495 989 Internet Address; http://www.moh.govt.nz

Background Information

What is benomyl? Benomyl is a fungicide (scientific name; benzimidazole) which can be and is used on a wide range of foods, particularly fruits, vegetables and grains, either pre or post-harvest to control fungal disease.

Why is it used in food? Fungal growth on vegetables, fruits and grains spoils food and animal feeds, and can lead to the formation of mycotoxins which threaten food safety. Fungicide is often necessary to maintain quality produce given New Zealand's relatively humid climate.

Why does the Ministry study benomyl in the food supply? To determine the level in the food supply and to assess whether the amount of benomyl is safe.

How does the Ministry measure the supply? The Ministry commissioned ESR to take 86 samples from 24 foods. The foods surveyed - fruits, vegetables and cereals - are those most likely to contain benomyl residues.

What effect is the benomyl levels in our food having on our health? The survey findings show that levels are so low people's health should not be adversely affected.

What toxic effects can benomyl cause? Benomyl has a low acute toxity and it does not accumulate in tissues over the long-term. However, benomyl has been shown to cause birth defects in rats force fed significant quantities (31.2 mg benomyl/kg bw/day).

Other studies using rats did not result in birth defects and various scientific investigations have not found any link between benomyl and birth defects in humans. People could not be exposed to the same level exposure through their food intake as the rats.

How do New Zealand's levels compare internationally? Analysing benomyl is not easy and it is not routinely incorporated into many international surveys. The only data available for comparison purposes is the 1996 UK Total Diet Survey. Benomyl intake levels in New Zealand are significantly lower than the UK. For example our intake is under 0.19 per cent of the acceptable daily intake while in the UK a study found it ranged up to 10 per cent in one population group.

Is there a trend for benomyl in our food supply? The Ministry cannot say as this is the first survey of benomyl residues in New Zealand foods.

What is an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI)? It is the daily intake of a chemical which, during the entire life time of the consumer, appears to be without appreciable risk to health. The World Health Organization set the ADI for benomyl, after the rat study findings.

Where can I find out more information about benomyl? A copy of the full report on benomyl is on the Ministry's web site; www.moh.govt.nz A wide range of literature regarding benomyl and its metabolites is published in scientific journals and is on the internet, for example Toxline search database at http://igm.nlm.nih.gov.

Sue McCabe Media Advisor Communications DDI: 496 2067 Fax: 496 2010 mailto:sue_mccabe@moh.govt.nz Ministry of Health

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