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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 12:31 GMT
Pesticides mix 'threatens health'
Pesticide spraying
About 450 chemicals are approved for use in pesticides
The mix of pesticides in food could be putting people at possible risk of brain damage and cancer, new research suggests.

Scientists at Liverpool University have found that food containing the residues of more than one pesticide can be many times more toxic when acting together than individual chemicals.

The research featured on BBC1's Countryfile programme on Sunday.

The findings have prompted calls for the government's Pesticide Safety Directorate to review the maximum safe residues of pesticides in food.

Each one of us is walking around with hundreds of chemicals in our bodies that couldn't have been there 50 or 60 years ago because they didn't exist on the planet

Dr Vyvyan Howard
The research, to be published next year, is based on tests involving exposure of cultured brain cell tissues to various commonly-approved pesticides.

The results show that when more than one pesticide is mixed together, they can be ten times more toxic than individual chemicals.

Dr Vyvyan Howard, leading the research, told Countryfile: "Pesticides are tested one at a time but virtually nothing is known about taking pesticide A and pesticide B, putting them together and seeing what happens then."

He said the research suggested unborn children were particularly vulnerable to brain damage from pesticides absorbed by their mothers.

Baby food law

"If you consider that each one of us is walking around with hundreds of chemicals in our bodies, that couldn't have been there 50 or 60 years ago because they didn't exist on the planet, then you can see the level of complexity of the problem," he said.

Possible links between pesticide exposure and increasing cancer rates, falling sperm counts and the early onset of puberty in girls, have already been suggested by other research from around the world, he told the BBC.

Pesticides include insecticides, herbicides and fungicides
About 450 active chemical ingredients are approved for use
Friends of the Earth says almost 30% of food contains pesticide residues
Organosphates in sheep dip have been linked to headaches, limb pains and mood changes
The calls for a revision of the official safety standards comes as the European Commission prepares to introduce a new law for baby food, which will set blanket limits on all pesticides, regardless of their toxicity, for the first time.

The chairman of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, Professor David Coggan, agreed that more research was needed.

He told Countryfile: "There is concern, I think, though not as big a problem as many people would make out.

"The margins between the doses that people receive from eating foods and the levels of exposure that would cause health effects are so large.

"In general we would not expect, even where people are exposed to combinations of pesticides or other chemicals in their foods, that it would cause problems.

"But it is an area that is being recognised as needing further investigation and there is a committee at the moment at the Department of Health that is looking more closely at this area."

Government monitoring shows that more than 40% of food contains pesticide residues.

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16 Sep 99 | Medical notes
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