Tuesday, May 24

Expert: Beware of pesticide contamination

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KUCHING: The next time you go to the market, don’t buy vegetables and fruits blindly because the chances of them being contaminated with banned pesticides are very real.

Ron Ah Goh

Another nightmare is that while most vegetable and fruit producers stick to permitted pesticides, some of them are spraying their crops way beyond the maximum residue level (MRL) allowed.

This warning comes from former assistant director of agriculture (crop protection) Ron Ah Goh who told The Borneo Post yesterday that some vegetable and fruit producers were using banned pesticides such as endosulfan, methamidofos, and acephate.

“They not only use these banned stuff but used it way above the MRL allowed.

“This has basically become an issue and challenge for all consumers because they won’t know which vegetables are safe for consumption,” said Ron.

“I still suspect that one of the most popular pesticides that are still used rampantly locally contains the chemical carbofuran,” he added.

Ron explained that carbofuran, which is banned in the United States, is only recommended for paddy planting to get rid of rice bugs.

“The reason is that pesticides which contain carbofuran, which can kill insects, mites and nematodes, is cheap and effective. It is systemic and can last 90 days in crop,” said Ron, who is an entomologist.

He lamented that generally the level of pesticide contamination in local vegetables was still very high and thus made them unfit for human consumption at all.

“Overall, the average MRL found in sample vegetables which the relevant authority analysed is high. In fact, in certain areas of the state it is as high as 40 per cent beyond the permissible limit at times.”

As such, he cautioned, people who consume such vegetables and fruits were actually consuming poison.

The hardest hit group would be pregnant women, the young, the sickly, the elderly, and those with a low immune system.

“The most worrying group would be pregnant women and they should take extra. The foetuses that they carry are the most vulnerable if they continue to eat those foods that are contaminated with pesticides.

“Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to such chemical contamination can lead to birth defects.”

Ron, who is also a member of the Sarawak Institute of Agriculture Scientist, said public forums about pesticide contaminations of vegetable and fruits should be organised to create awareness among the consumers and to get the producers to toe the line.

“Consumers also need to change their perception. Don’t blindly look for good-looking vegetables or fruits.”

Ron also urged the government to give research and development (R&D) on pesticides management due consideration.

The relevant agencies which monitor pesticide contamination should also be armed with the necessary equipment and manpower to discharge their responsibilities effectively.

To give enforcement more bite, Ron suggested that the relevant authorities be involved at different stages before the vegetables and fruits reached consumers.

For instance, the agriculture department should analyse and certify that the vegetables, fruits or grains at the producer’s farm are using the pesticides properly.

When it reached the marketplace, the medical department should analyse and certify that the vegetables and fruits are safe for human consumption.

As for consumers, they should consider growing their own vegetables and fruits if they have the sufficient land at home.

“Try using organic fertilisers for a change.”

To ensure that vegetables and fruits are pesticide safe, Ron considered tagging as the “ultimate solution”. Such practices were implemented by the Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority (Fama) in the peninsula since July 1 this year.