The dangerous 'cocktail effect' of pesticides

A quarter of the UK’s food contains pesticide cocktails. These are residues of multiple chemicals added during the crop’s growing life. This ‘cocktail effect’ is not examined by the government agency which looks into the regulation of pesticides - despite evidence that these cocktails can harm human health and wildlife.
bowl of tomatoes

A new report, from PAN UK and the Soil Association, examines for the first time to what extent the cocktail effect is a problem in the UK. It looks at the potential impact upon human health and the environment. It also describes the failures of our regulatory system to protect us from the cocktail effect, and makes recommendations for what needs to change.

Key findings

  • Over a third of all the fruit and vegetables tested in 2017 and 2018 contained residues of more than one pesticide.
  • 87.5% of the pears tested contained pesticide cocktails, with 4% containing residues of nine or more different chemicals.
  • 55% of raspberries contained multiple pesticides, with one sample containing four known, probable or possible carcinogens, two endocrine disruptors which interfere with hormone systems, one developmental toxin which can have adverse effects on sexual function and fertility and one neurotoxin which can negatively affect the nervous system and nerve tissue.
  • Multiple residues were found in more than 75% of grapes, with one sample containing traces of 14 different pesticides.

There is currently no official government monitoring of pesticide cocktails in the environment. The only information available is from a small number of independent academic studies.

  • One UK study found that 43% of bumblebees had detectable levels of more than one pesticide, with traces of seven pesticides found in one individual.
  • A study of soil in 11 European countries revealed that around 67% of the UK soil samples had multiple residues, 25% had more than six, with around 4% continuing traces of more than ten pesticides.
  • UK water appears to be no less contaminated. A study revealed that 66% of water samples taken from seven river catchments contained over ten pesticides. Two small rivers in East Devon were found to contain residues of up to 24 pesticides and six veterinary drugs

Pesticide cocktails can be significantly more harmful than individual chemicals
Research conducted on human cells and tissues have shown that combined actions of pesticide mixtures can lead to the creation of cancer cells and disruption of the endocrine system. This affects hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, and reproduction, among other things.

Call to action
PAN UK (Pesticide Action Network UK) suggest that MPs are unaware of the dangers. And that we need to write to them. See here for a suggested email to the government with your concerns. We urge Garden Organic members to write. And when possible, buy organic food to support organic farmers. Food should be a source of health and wellbeing, not full of chemical unknowns.