A programme to crack down on illegal pesticide residues in winter lettuces has been launched by the government.

The campaign was launched this week by DEFRA junior minister Alun Michael.

Despite the fact the annual report of the Pesticide Residue Committee recorded that only 1% of 4,000 samples contained excess residues - none of which presented a safety risk - DEFRA said it continued to be concerned about winter lettuce.

Michael said: “I recognise that consumers need to be reassured that produce does not contain undesirable or unnecessary residues and that good agricultural practice is followed.

“The evidence shows the majority of farmers and growers operate well within the bounds of good practice.

“But although there has been some improvement, the number of undesirable residues found in winter lettuce is still high so we intend to conduct a further monitoring survey this year and will continue to take firm action against growers or retailers.”

The programme will involve advisers from the Rural Development Service sampling product at all points in the supply chain. At the same time DEFRA is revising its advisory leaflets to help growers follow good practice guidelines.

Winter lettuce grown under glass is prone to fungal attack, with a limited number of products approved to tackle it.

However, DEFRA’s plans have been criticised as inadequate by pressure group Friends of the Earth.

It said there was nothing new in the government approach - moreover it had not worked in the past.

Spokeswoman Sandra Bell said: “The government actions so far have failed to tackle risky pesticides in winter lettuce.

“This is a clear example of why we need a tax on pesticides to discourage the use of the most risky products.”
Ed Bedington