2008 August: Endosulfan found in Australian Tomatoes. Pesticides: Endosulfan, Dimethoate, Omethoate

Endosulfan, a toxic organophosphate insecticide, in Australian tomatoes

This report was published in July by the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand

More endosulfan in tomatoes – this time Australian ones are worse!

Independent residue testing commissioned by Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ and the Soil & Health Association has found endosulfan residues in both New Zealand and Australian tomatoes – but this time the residues are much worse in the imported tomatoes.

Endosulfan residues were found in cherry tomatoes, but not loose tomatoes, from both countries, with those from Australia having 4 and a half times more endosulfan than the NZ cherry tomatoes.

Whilst the Australian large loose tomatoes did not contain endosulfan, they did contain residues of dimethoate, and its metabolite omethoate. Dimethoate is a highly toxic organophosphate insecticide used as a post harvest dip to kill fruit fly larvae before tomatoes are sent to New Zealand. Omethoate is far more toxic and persistent than dimethoate.

“Dimethoate and omethoate don’t wash off the tomatoes and are not something consumers should be ingesting,” said Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network. “They are endocrine disruptors, reducing testosterone levels and causing infertility and can also cause birth defects, a variety of cancers including leukaemia, and suppression of the immune system.”

 Endosulfan, a highly toxic and persistent organochlorine insecticide. It has been banned in 55 countries and proposed by the European Union for a global ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic pollutants.

“Endosulfan is the worst pesticide still in use in New Zealand”, said Dr Watts. “It is also an endocrine disruptor, specifically mimicking oestrogen, causing breast cancer cells to grow and is a real risk for breast cancer at even very low exposure levels such as residues in food. It persists in our bodies and is handed down to the next generation across the placenta and in breast milk, a situation that is regarded as no longer acceptable in countries such as those of the European Union”.

 Jo Immig of National Toxics Network in Australia has written to Tony Burke MP, Minister for Agriculture as well as the Health and Environment Ministers bringing their attention to this issue and asking for an immediate ban on endosulfan use in Australia.

According to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Pesticides Authority (APVMA) database, there are currently eight, registered endosulfan pesticide products in Australia that are used on an extensive range of produce including cotton, cereals, oilseeds, fruit, vegetables and a range of other crops. The APVMA states itself that, ‘Alternative products are available for all [endosulfan] use patterns…”. (APVMA Information Sheet, “Does the Use of Endosulfan Interest You?”)

The figures for Australian cherry tomatoes imported into New Zealand were 100gms of tomato will give a load of 97ug, practically reaching the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for a 50kg person


An “Open Letter to Stephen Johnson, Administrator,U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Ban Endosulfan” has been published this week in the Int J Occup Environ Health. This journal is listed on PubMed, and the article should appear in PubMed within a few months. There are many organisations supporting the letter. On behalf of DEA it is signed by Alison Bleaney and David Shearman

National Toxics network has written to the Minister of agriculture in Australia (see above)

DEA members will have to make a personal decision as to whether they buy organic tomatoes or preferably grow their own. Unfortunately there must be concern that other fruit and vegetables are similarly treated. Have you ever wondered why you never find a slug in the lettuce you buy? It is reassuring to find one in the organically grown lettuce! Editor

More information on this topic can be found at www.ntn.org.au