Knesset Cuts Permitted Pesticide Levels in Israeli Crops

But measures don't go far enough, says the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

Ofer Vaknin

The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Tuesday approved changes in regulations that would reduce the maximum permitted levels of pesticide residue in food crops. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V’Din) says it welcomes the changes, but called on the committee to follow the lead of European countries and the United States in banning outright the use of pesticides that are hazardous to health.

After examining the issue of residual levels of pesticides for a number of years, an interministerial committee decided to update the regulations regarding the maximum levels of 500 pesticides in edible crops and to ban, completely or almost completely, the use of 45 pesticides.

Exposure to high concentrations of pesticides can damage health in a number of ways that include causing cancer, damage to the nervous system and neurological and cognitive damage.

According to data issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Israel has the highest pesticide use of any OECD member state. Crops in which relatively high amounts of pesticide residue has been found include herb plants.

According to a report by the ministries of health and agriculture, the need to update the regulations stems from the introduction of new types of pesticides, as well as changes to safety assessments regarding their use in general and on specific crops. If a certain pesticide is banned, a substitute must be found. This happened when certain pesticides were prohibited for use on herb plants and on certain pumpkin and winter squash varieties.

Permissible levels of pesticide residue in food crops is determined through field testing for each pesticide under Israeli conditions. The goal is to reach the lowest level of pesticide use possible while still controlling pests effectively.

In a position paper submitted to the Knesset committee ahead of Tuesday's meeting, Adam Teva V’Din said the new regulations will have a major positive impact on public health, but that additional changes are needed so as to comply with the permitted residue levels in the United States and Europe.

The environmental organization proposed reducing to zero the permissible levels of four organophosphate pesticides, which affect the nervous systems of agricultural pests. Current regulations permit certain levels of these pesticides in some fruits and vegetables.