Cherry Insecticide May Pose Human Health Risk, European Food Safety Authority Indicates

The agency governing food safety in Europe has determined that it cannot rule out the possibility that dimethoate, a common insecticide used on cherries, may be unsafe for humans. 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announcement came after France called on the agency to review whether dimethoate was safe, and indicated that a ban on use of the chemical should be issued across the entire European Union.

The European Commission asked the EFSA to perform a “preliminary acute and chronic” risk assessment. The findings of the preliminary investigation were published April 12, in the EFSA Journal.

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Dimethoate is used on vegetables or orchard fruits, including cherries, to combat fruit flies. Prior research has suggested a link between dimethoate and increased cancer risk.

The EFSA concluded the “data are not sufficient to clearly exclude a consumer health risk,” citing concerns about toxicity on humans.

Overall, the EFSA found that potential long-term consumer health risks resulting from residues related to the use of dimethoate-containing plant protection products cannot be excluded. Consumers of fruits the chemical was used on and farmers using the chemical to treat fruits, may be at risk of health side effects.

The report states that limits “set for crops for the current legal residue definition may not be sufficiently protective for consumers.” The crops particularly affected by dimethoate include cherries, spring onions, table olives, fennel seed, potatoes, melons, oranges, olives for oil production, watermelons, and pineapples.

The agency said a more detailed risk assessment is required to confirm or reject possible concerns.

France initially issued a ban on dimethoate-based pesticides in February, which was followed with push back from French farmers who say there is no viable alternative for farmers to use.

A followup statement was issued by the French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll, calling for emergency EU-wide measures to ban the use of products containing dimethoate and the marketing of cherries grown using them.

The European Commission said it would analyze the EFSA report and debate the ban at a closed door meeting of experts representing the 28 EU member states this week.

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