Over 10% of Israeli Fruits and Vegetables Contain Too Much Pesticide, Ministry Says

In 2015, around one-third of apples, cucumbers and peaches contained levels considered excessive, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Apples at the wholesale market in Tzifrin, Israel, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

As much as 15 percent of Israel’s fresh fruit and vegetables inspected in recent years had higher pesticide residue than allowed, a survey by the Agriculture Ministry shows.

In 2014, no less than 34 percent of apples and 29 percent of melons had more pesticide residue than the law permits, and 20 percent of peaches, tomatoes and plums.

In 2015, these numbers were 33 percent for cucumbers, 30 percent for peaches and 25 percent for melons.

The results were based on at least 15 samples of the product in question. The tests were conducted on fresh produce that had been harvested for market but not yet sold. The purpose was to check whether pesticides were being used based on the instructions on their labels.

In 2014 and 2015, 1,226 samples of produce were inspected. In 2014, about 15 percent of the samples contained excess pesticide, with the number dipping to 12 percent in 2015.

Crops in which excess pesticide was found also included pomegranates. Among crops deemed clean of pesticide residue in at least one of the two years in the study were broccoli, avocados, rocket, garlic, fennel, sweet potatoes, corn, strawberries and bananas.

The ministry also found traces of banned toxins but said the number of incidents was small. In recent years the ministry banned 16 substances found in 46 types of pesticide, and limited the use of 20 other materials.

It said that in 2014 and 2015 it investigated 43 cases of excess pesticide and in all cases fined the farmers. But in most cases, the excess amounts were small.

“Usually the residue found in agricultural produce, even if greater than permissible, does not pose an immediate peril to the public’s health,” the ministry said, adding that health hazards lay in exposure to small amounts throughout one’s life.

Israel’s showing of 15 percent in 2014 and 12 percent in 2015 is worse than in the United States and Europe, where the number is 3 percent at most, said the environmental group Adam Teva V’Din.

The group called on the Agriculture Ministry to devote more money and effort to researching alternatives to pesticides, especially for crops where massive deviations were found such as apples.