At least two pesticides in half of bread sold in UK, data shows

Pesticide Action Network calls for urgent action after analysis shows 50% increase in pesticide cocktails

Half of bread sold in the UK contains at least two different pesticides, government data has revealed.

According to analysis by Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN), this is a rise of 50% from last year, and a major increase over the past decade when, on average, roughly 25% of bread has been found to contain pesticide cocktails.

PAN is calling on the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to “take urgent action to reduce pesticide-related harms”.

Each year, the UK government tests food on sale for consumption for pesticides and releases details of which ones were found. This year, more than a third (47) of the total pesticides found on products are not approved in the UK, meaning that British farmers cannot use them.

It tested a range of bread products – from standard white and brown bread to crumpets, scones and muffins – and found a total of 11 different pesticides, including five that PAN says have links to cancer.

Nick Mole, from PAN, said: “With the cost of living crisis forcing people to spend less on food, it’s vital that consumers can trust that relatively cheap products like bread won’t expose them to dangerous mixtures of chemicals. The government claims that it’s committed to tackling pesticides, so why have pesticide cocktails been allowed to double in a staple food that most of us eat at least once every day?”

The testing, which took place in 2021, also revealed that pesticides are widely found in fruit and vegetables, with 100% of grapefruit sampled found to contain at least one pesticide. The largest number of pesticides found on one 1kg grapefruit sample was nine.

Just under a third of vegetables (30%) and more than two-thirds of fruit (69%) were found to contain residues of more than one chemical.

Mole added: “There is a growing body of evidence showing that pesticides can become more harmful when they’re combined with each other. And yet we continue to set safety limits for just one chemical at a time. We actually have no idea of the long-term impacts of consuming tiny amounts of hundreds of different chemicals. We are choosing to play Russian roulette with people’s health”.

The government’s testing revealed 137 different pesticide residues across all produce, including many linked to serious chronic health effects. This included 46 carcinogens, 27 endocrine disruptors which can interfere with hormone systems and in some cases cause birth defects, developmental disorders and reproductive problems such as infertility, and 14 cholinesterase inhibitors, which reduce the ability of nerve cells to pass information to each other and can impair the respiratory system and cause confusion, headaches and weakness.

Mark Willis, head of chemical contaminants & residues branch at the Food Standards Agency said: “Our role is to protect consumers by ensuring that any food placed on the market is safe. Where pesticides in a food product are found to be above a maximum residue level the FSA will be informed. If it exceeds this maximum level and may constitute a risk to health, we will ensure appropriate action is taken, such as removing items from the market.”


Helena Horton Environment reporter

The GuardianTramp

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