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More endosulfan in tomatoes

23 July 2008

More endosulfan in tomatoes – this time Australian ones are worse

Independent residue testing commissioned by Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ and the Soil & Health Association has found endosulfan residues in both New Zealand and Australian tomatoes – but this time the residues are much worse in the imported tomatoes.

Endosulfan residues were found in cherry tomatoes, but not loose tomatoes, from both countries, with those from Australia having 4 and a half times more endosulfan than the NZ cherry tomatoes.

Whilst the Australian large loose tomatoes did not contain endosulfan, they did contain residues of dimethoate, and its metabolite omethoate. Dimethoate is a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide used as a post harvest dip to kill fruit fly larvae before tomatoes are sent to New Zealand. Omethoate is far more toxic and persistent than dimethoate.

“Dimethoate and omethoate don’t wash off the tomatoes and are not something consumers should be ingesting,” said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network. “They are endocrine disruptors, reducing testosterone levels and causing infertility and can also cause birth defects, a variety of cancers including leukaemia, and suppression of the immune system.”

The New Zealand large loose tomatoes were residue free.

“There is a real chance here for New Zealand growers: if the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), or the government, bans endosulfan as they are being called on to do, New Zealand growers will have a clear marketing advantage over their Australian competitors,” said Steffan Browning of the Soil & Health Association.

ERMA is currently reassessing endosulfan, a highly toxic and persistent organochlorine insecticide. It has been banned in 55 countries and proposed by the European Union for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic pollutants.

Despite this worldwide action on endosulfan, ERMA is proposing to allow continued use on New Zealand tomatoes and other produce. However there has been a very strong reaction to this proposal with a number of organisations and individuals calling on the Minister for the Environment to override ERMA’s decision and ban endosulfan in the interests of the whole country.  

“Endosulfan is the worst pesticide still in use in New Zealand”, said Dr Watts. “It is also an endocrine disruptor, specifically mimicking oestrogen, causing breast cancer cells to grow and is a real risk for breast cancer at even very low exposure levels such as residues in food. It persists in our bodies and is handed down to the next generation across the placenta and in breast milk, a situation that is regarded as no longer acceptable in countries such as those of the European Union”.

“While our samples tested had clear country of origin labelling at the supermarket, many suppliers do not label clearly. Given the knowledge that Australian tomatoes consistently contain highly toxic dimethoate, New Zealanders must be able to always choose their local produce,” said Mr Browning.

“While having greater levels of endosulfan, the Australian cherry tomatoes tested also contained methamidophos and piperonyl-butoxide.”

“Soil & Health will be submitting to Parliament’s Health Select Committee next week on the need for mandatory Country of Origin Labelling.”

Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 with food and environment free from synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.


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