The fresh produce industry has accused health campaigners of scaremongering over pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables.

This week, the government's Pesticides Residues Committee released the results of tests revealing excessive pesticide residues in fresh produce lines.

However, Nigel Jenny, chief executive of the Fresh Produce Consortium, pointed out that the research also showed that 65% contained no residues at all, and said this was evidence the industry was providing a "good supply of healthy and safe fruit and veg".

Leading scientists added that there was a very low risk to health from the residues. "I can understand that some people have concerns about pesticide residues in their food," said PRC chairman Ian Brown. "But as a doctor I cannot overemphasise the importance of continuing to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. The health benefits far outweigh any concerns about pesticide residues."

The test results suggested that there were excessive pesticide residues in 60 of 3,562 fresh produce lines sold last year through the multiples and supplied to hospitals and schools through the wholesale markets. A further 1,179 samples contained traces of pesticides within legal limits.

Ninety eight of the 138 samples taken from the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme contained pesticide residues, with apples and bananas worst affected.

"Children are far more susceptible to toxic chemicals than adults, and it's not acceptable that they should be exposed to the same levels," said Nick Mole, European programme co-ordinator for the Pesticides Action Network.

"I'm not blaming farmers for this - reduction needs government support."

The row is expected to intensify following the government's announcement last week that pregnant women would be given £120 to spend on healthy food.