How PAN Europe tracked down EDCs in European food...

Identifying pesticides with endocrine disrupting properties

Given the fact that the EU does not currently have a list of specific criteria to define endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) for now, we had to set up our own list of endocrine disrupting pesticides. To do so, we combined all available sources, open literature -studies publishedby academia -and 'grey' literature – studies done in the process of pesticide evaluation.

For both sources, reviews are available and we chose to combine the following ones:

  • The KEMI List (2008): the Swedish Chemicals Agency has collected all cases on endocrine disrupting pesticides from the evaluation dossiers for pesticides. These dossiers are mainly based on mandatory safety testing of pesticides done by the industry themselves.
  • Mc Kinlay’s review of the scientific research on EDCs from open literature : 2008 : McKinlay, R., Plant, J.A., Bell, J.N.B., Voulvoulis, N. Endocrine disrupting pesticides: implications for risk assessment. Environment international 2008; 34(2):168-83.

Based on these sources, PAN identified as many as 43 different potential ED pesticides.

Collecting residues in European food items

With our new list of ED pesticides, we started looking for residues from these 43 pesticides in food items in the European Union. We based our research on the annual report from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) [1] analysing food samples in the EU (including fruits, vegetables, cereals, milk and eggs). In total, 27 food items were assessed and the data could be used for our ranking of endocrine contaminated food. Out of the 43 endocrine disrupting pesticides, 30 were identified in European food.

Note : because the data did not seem plausible in the official online version, we sent a request to the EFSA for a complete review. It turned out that there were printing erros in the data and a new revised version was sent to us. We are happy to send a copy to interested readers.

[1] Report available online : European Food Safety Authority; 2009 EU Report on Pesticide Residues. EFSA Journal 2011; 9(11):2430. [226 pp.] doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2430 . Available online:

Presenting the results of long-term exposure to the consumers

Around half of our food is contaminated with pesticide residues, and 25 % of our food has even multiple pesticide residues, sometimes containing even more than 10 pesticides in one food sample. That is for one single portion. But what about the amount of pesticides residues ingested in the long run ?

The data shows that the consumption of some food items, like peppers, could lead to exposure in the long term to more than 20 different pesticides. Lettuce happens to be exposed to the highest level of endocrine disruptors. Given the exposure through many food items at the same time, exposure to mixtures is also very likely.

In order to inform consumers and give them a choice, we decided to set up a « ranking » of the 10 most « disrupting » food items; that is the 10 food items with the highest level of ED pesticides based on the “long-term” data of EFSA.

The complete explanation of our method is explained thoroughly in our consumer guide.

Our complete data with the list of all food commodities and their level of ED pesticides in details is accessible for the public here.

We hope that this will be a first step towards a new era of European agriculture, totally free of harmful pesticides.