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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 01:15 GMT
Food advice move sparks row
Health advice on peeling and washing is to be altered
Environment campaigners have criticised plans to modify government health advice on preparing fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is advising consumers that there is now no need to wash and peel such fresh food to get rid of traces of pesticides before eating.

Nobody can ever guarantee that anything in life is absolutely safe

Professor David Coggan
It does say it is commonsense to do so for hygiene reasons.

But Friends of the Earth has attacked such advice as irresponsible.

The campaigning group says official figures show that, for example, about three quarters of apples and pears on sale in the UK have shown detectable residue of various pesticides.

'No health risk'

But government scientists say the traces are so minute that they are highly unlikely to pose a risk to human health.

We're not convinced at all that this peeling advice should go at this stage

Sandra Bell
The FSA wants to encourage not deter people, especially children, from eating a healthy diet.

It has convinced government advisers on pesticide to recommend that official health warnings to wash and peel fruit and vegetables should be scrapped.

Campaigners say this is premature because no-one knows what the long term cumulative effects of low level residues could be on human health.

Professor David Coggan, chairman of the independent advisory committee on pesticides, told the BBC: "The advice that was given was really a precaution because of uncertainty.

"There had been new research which showed that there was more variation in pesticide residues within a crop than had previously been suspected.

"It was unclear just how much this variation was and what its implications would be, whether it would be eroding safety margins a lot.

"Therefore this was sensible precautionary advice at the time. There's been a lot more research conducted since, and that's resolved the uncertainty and so we are able to revise the advice."

Microbial hazards

He said it was still sensible to wash because of microbial hazards.

"I think it's about getting risks in proportion. Nobody can ever guarantee that anything in life is absolutely safe, but people need to know how important one risk is compared with another."

Sandra Bell, real foods campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "We're not confident there has been any significant change since 1997, and we've looked at exactly the same papers as the advisory committee.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the Consumers' Association, said: "We're not convinced at all that this peeling advice should go at this stage

"Any review of the FSA's advice on washing and peeling fruit and vegetables would be premature, and the Consumers' Association is concerned about how the review of this advice seems to have come about."

She said tests still showed that 72% of apples and 81% of pears have residues, and that it had been reported that 61% of grapes and 63% of kiwi fruit contained toxic chemicals.

Ms McKechnie said: "The long-standing advice to wash and peel fruit as a sensible additional precaution, particularly for small children, should be emphasised and improved, not scrapped."

The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"The government's Food Standards Agency has angered environmental campaigners"
Prof David Coggan, Advisory Committee on Pesticides
"Nobody is questioning the wisdom of eating fresh fruit and vegetables"
See also:

16 Feb 02 | Health
Vegetable 'link' to cancer
14 Jun 01 | Health
Organic food 'hygienic'
20 Sep 00 | Health
Tests spark pesticide concerns
01 Sep 00 | Health
Organic food 'no healthier'
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