EU consumers increasingly exposed to ‘forever chemicals’ in fruit and vegetables, study warns

Analysis of official data from the national monitoring programmes of pesticide residues in food in Member States found that the number of European fruit and vegetables with detected PFAS pesticide residues nearly tripled between 2011 and 2021, with a growth rate of 220% for fruit and of 274% for vegetables.

The rise was even greater in some of the EU Member States studied individually: Austria (+698% for fruit, +3,277% for vegetables) and Greece (+696% in fruit, +1974% in vegetables).

According to the study, 37% of strawberries, 35% of peaches and 31% of apricots were contaminated.

Of this contaminated European-grown fruit, 20% contained cocktails of PFAS pesticide residues, with up to four different PFAS pesticides detected in a single sample of strawberries and table grapes, and up to three in peaches and apricots. 

A smaller percentage of European-grown vegetables (12%) was contaminated with PFAS pesticide residues, the study said, though some vegetables are as frequently contaminated as the top-ranked fruit (chicories: 42; cucumbers: 30%). 

In 2021, the Member States that produced fruit and vegetables most frequently contaminated with PFAS pesticide residues were the Netherlands (27%), Belgium (27%), Austria (25%), Spain (22%) and Portugal (21%). Among imported fruit and vegetables, those most likely to contain residues of PFAS pesticides came from Costa Rica (41%), India (38%), South Africa (28%), Colombia (26%) and Morocco (24%). 

In 2021, the most often detected PFAS active substances in contaminated European-grown products were the fungicide fluopyram, the insecticide flonicamid and the fungicide trifloxystrobin.