Are fruits and vegetables in Pakistan high in pesticides

Fresh-cut residue free fruits and vegetables also named as ready-to-use or ready-to-eat represent an important and rapidly expanding food segment and of great interest for growers, processors, retailers and consumers.

However a large proportion of our daily food is contaminated with pesticides. Fruits and vegetables are facing numerous challenges in the form of insect pests, diseases and postharvest issues, resulting high cost of production and low yield. To counter these problems, chemical insecticides are still the predominant pest control measure. Currently, more than 108 types of insecticides, 30 types of fungicides, 39 types of weedicides, 5 types of acaricides and 6 different types of rodenticides are being used in Pakistan. The misuse of pesticides has led to tremendous economic losses and hazards to human health and environmental pollutions.

The pesticides are present in the fruits and vegetables in the form of residues. Unfortunately, a very little effort has been done for the identification and quantification of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables which shows the level of pesticide residues above maximum residual limits (MRLs) as compared to developed (Europe and America) nations. A Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) is the maximum concentration of a pesticide residues legally permitted in a food or feed commodity.

According to FAO; maximum residual limits are established only where the residues in food resulting from particular use patterns of the pesticide pass the public health risk assessment. In a recent study of the University of Karachi, the 87.5% of fruit samples were contaminated with and 28.5% were exceeded the MRLs of pesticides.

In another study for the contamination of soil, water, fruits and vegetables in cotton growing area of Sindh and Southern Punjab, all water samples were contaminated and 70% above MRLs. Entire vegetable and 88% of fruit samples were contaminated with 37% and 28% above MRLs respectively. While in European Union (EU), more than 77000 samples of approximately 500 different types of food were analyzed and only 1.6% of total samples exceeded the European legal limits (MRLs) according to a study.

Similarly, a pesticide monitoring survey was conducted in California (USA) of 5500 food samples including fruits and vegetables and only 2% samples contained illegal residues.  These studies shows the worst situation of MRLs in our daily food which might be linked with the increasing rate of diseases in Pakistan.

Agriculture is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and contributes almost 22% to the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It provides 44% employment and 60% exports which have the potential to maximize further. Fruits and vegetables are the important food commodities with huge daily consumption in masses. They provide essential nutrients to the body and reduce many risks of various diseases by developing resistance in the body.

In Pakistan, fruits and vegetables have been grown in 4% cultivated area and have important share in GDP of the country. The quantity of fruits and vegetables stood at 709,980 tonnes and 724,258 tonnes in 2012-13 as compared to 737,029 tonnes and 523,863 tonnes respectively in 2011-12. Addition to local consumption the exports of fruits and vegetables rose up to 16% fetching $625 million in 2012-13 as compared to $538 million in 2011-12.

The exports can be increased in future with modern technological management practices. Pakistan exports its commodities to Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Muscat, UAE, South Korea, Japan and United Kingdom.

Keeping in view, it is need of the hour to expedite efforts on the part of agricultural scientists and other stakeholders including government plant protection and health departments to facilitate, produce and promote latest agricultural practices to minimize the toxic residues in fruits and vegetables. The government should also allocate funds for researchers to find out safer and sustainable production of healthy food products.

This will not only ensure the food security but also knock the economy of the country due to increase in export of fruits and vegetables if we meet the World Trade Organization (WTO) standards by using latest agricultural practices like integrated pest management (IPM). The objective of IPM is to diminish the pest’s effects while protecting human health, environment and economic sustainability.

This article is collectively authored by Dr. Ahmad Nawaz, Dr. M. Sufyan, Dr. M. Dildar Gogi, Asim Abbasi * and Asad Aslam- Department of Entomology, University of Agriculture Faisalabad.

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