The free fruit and vegetables provided by the government to millions of young schoolchildren usually contain the residues of multiple pesticides, according to official tests collated in a new report.
In the last decade, residues of of 123 pesticides were found, while apples and bananas given out recently in schools contained more residues than those sold in supermarkets.
Government experts say “none of the residues are likely to result in any adverse health effects”. But campaigners argue there is great uncertainty about the combined effect of cocktails of pesticides and the increased susceptibility of children.
Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which released its new report as children return to school, said a precautionary approach should be taken and that switching the school scheme to organic produce would cost about 1p per child per day.
Since 2004, the Department of Health (DoH) has sought to promote healthy eating by providing one piece of fruit or vegetable every school day to children aged four to six years in England. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme (SFVS) reaches about 2.3 million children in 16,300 schools and costs about £40m a year.
The DoH commissions testing of pesticide residues each term and PAN collated the results from 2005 to 2016. It found that 84% of the 2,238 items tested contained at least one pesticide and 66% contained multiple residues, with as many as 13 different chemicals in extreme cases.