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Sickness link to pesticides

Jo Immig, co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network, has examined Australian pesticides and collaborated with Friends of the Earth.
Jo Immig, co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network, has examined Australian pesticides and collaborated with Friends of the Earth. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

A RECENT assessment shows pesticide residues found on Australian foods may be linked to health problems such as lymphoblastic leukemia in children, behavioural irregularities and low IQ.

The assessment by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth surveyed 125 pesticide residues on Australian fruit, vegetables and grains.

The assessment concluded 45% of them were linked to problems with the human endocrine system, which regulates the blood.

National Toxics Network co-ordinator Jo Immig, of Possum Creek, has examined Australian pesticides and collaborated with Friends of the Earth.

"The reality is, Australia uses many pesticides which are banned in other countries due to safety concerns," she said.

"The levels set in Australia are based on adults and their consumption patterns, not on children that are smaller and eat and drink more of certain things.

"We also don't know what happens when we eat 10 different pesticide residues and they combine in the body to potentially have a much greater effect."

Ms Immig claimed Northern Rivers residents were also at risk of pesticide ingestion through drift spray.

According to the Friends of the Earth assessment, pears, nectarines, peaches and apricots were in the top 20 Australian foods carrying pesticide residues.

Many North Coast stone fruit farmers used fenthion, a pesticide banned in several other countries, to repel and kill Queensland fruit flies.

However, Low Chill Australia secretary Greg Nash said fruit farmers had little choice.

"Queensland fruit fly is a nasty little critter and fenthion is really the only proven remedy for it," he said.

Fenthion is currently under review by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority and if found to be harmful, it may be taken off the market.

Mr Nash said such a decision could "decimate the stone fruit industry on the North Coast".

"After five years of climatic disasters, the stone fruit industry on the North Coast is really suffering and this would just be another kick in the pants," he said.

However, NSW Department of Trade and Investment tropical fruit extension specialist Philip Wilk said fenthion would most likely be "suspended" and made available to certain industries through permits, just as dimethoate, another pesticide used for insect control, had been.

He said it was arguable whether pesticides on Australian fruit reached levels harmful to humans.

"When fenthion was first brought in we could only measure in terms of parts per million, but now we've got that level down to parts per billion. The parts are so small, it might as well be nil," Mr Wilk said.

He claimed other protection measures against Queensland fruit fly, such as traps and baits, were ineffective, which reinforced the need for fenthion.

Ms Immig and Mr Nash both agreed Australia's increasing dependence on international fruit and vegetable imports left people susceptible to ingesting dangerous levels of pesticides because regulations in countries such as China were minimal.

Topics:  health leukemia pesticides produce sickness



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