The Israel Union for Environmental Defense has found high levels of 105 different pesticides in fruits and vegetables, a third of which are banned in Europe.
Grapes, celery and apples are the produce most contaminated by pesticides in Israel, according to the organization's survey, which lists the 15 most contaminated.
Exposure to about 20 of the banned pesticides can harm the nervous system or children's cognitive development. Fifteen of them are suspected of being carcinogenic.
"There is a need to act swiftly to limit the public's exposure to pesticides," said the group's CEO, Amit Bracha.
But the survey also discussed agricultural products that are clean of pesticides including passion fruit, avocado, sprouts, sweet potatoes and onions; only a minuscule number of samples contained pesticides above the permitted level.
The Union for Environmental Defense recommends that Israelis wash fruits and vegetables to reduce exposure to pesticides, eat organic produce or grow herbs on balconies or backyards.
The survey was inspired by the Dirty Dozen list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables published by the Environmental Working Group in the United States. It is based on health and agriculture ministry data from 2005 to 2011, including the pesticides detected, their concentration in each fruit or vegetable, and the number of samples exceeding permitted levels.
Sarit Caspi-Oron of the Israeli group's science department is to discuss the survey's findings next week at a social-justice conference in Be'er Sheva.
The method of gauging contamination levels was different from that used by the ministries, which focus on whether a prohibitively high level of specific pesticides is detected in specific products. The concentrations of all pesticide residues in a specific product have been calculated, as well as the so-called toxicity coefficient, which reflects the toxicity per portion of pesticide.
Grapes lead the list of contaminated fruits and vegetables, followed by celery and apples. In fourth place is citrus fruit, which are classified as contaminated due to their peels - even though the peel prevents some pesticides from penetrating. Nowadays, however, Israelis use an apparently carcinogenic pesticide that penetrates the peel.
Beets take fifth place, partly because they include residues of endosulfan, an insecticide known to harm the endocrine system that is being phased out globally.
Six of the top 10 crops in which excessive amounts of pesticides were detected are herbs. Eighty-six percent of samples of dill and similar amounts of chard and mint deviated from standards.
The NGO suspects that other food products contain excessive pesticide concentrations. For example, 75 percent of tests on flour revealed residues of phosphoric pesticides. The organization is calling on the Agriculture Ministry to set up a computerized database of all pesticide concentrations in food.
Its report comes only a week after the Central Bureau of Statistics found that Israel has the highest pesticide concentrations in food in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. For example, Israel uses four times as much pesticide as the Netherlands.
"The organization received all the data it requested," the Agriculture Ministry said. "The ministry is developing new software for its laboratories that compiles the data for publication."
According to the Health Ministry, "The organization requested the data under the Freedom of Information Law. In the coming days the ministry will publish an itemized report of the pesticide residues found in its examinations, including a breakdown of specific dangers."
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