2015 July: Pesticides in WA Fresh Produce Too High

Worrying and in some cases illegal levels of heavy metals, carcinogenic insecticide and arsenic has been found in multiple foods being imported into Australia as revealed by independent testing commissioned by SBS Punjabi Radio as part of a special investigation into the safety of Australia’s food import industry
Shamsher Kainth, Manpreet K Singh
27 Oct 2016 - 7:00 AM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2016 - 5:29 PM

After receiving reports from listeners complaining of problems with foods they had purchased at South Asian grocery stores around Australia, SBS Punjabi Radio team were prompted to investigate further. They sent 18 products purchased at Indian Specialty stores across greater Melbourne to the National Measurement Institute, a food testing lab accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities.

The tests revealed two instances of products which failed Australian food safety standards:

 - Kohinoor brand basmati rice found to contain Buprofezin - an insecticide banned in Australia.
 - Popular Indian spice brand MDH found to contain pesticides above the accepted Australian limit.

Apart from the two foods that failed to meet FSANZ standards, the National Measurement Institute also tested many samples of popular foods. 

Results from three other products concerned Food Safety experts due to levels of lead, copper and insecticide residues.

The three concerning products are:
- Complan - a powdered milk drink for growing children manufactured by Heinz in India.
- Indus basmati - a rice from Pakistan.
- Verka Ghee - a clarified butter widely used by South Asians in their daily cooking


Pesticides in WA fresh produce too high, report finds


In two of the last three WA Department of Health food monitoring testing programs 11 per cent of local produce contained residue levels exceeding acceptable standards.

The department conducts tests for pesticide residue in local meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and grains every two years.

A program conducted using food samples from across Australia found less than 1 per cent breached acceptable levels.

The Department of Health said it recorded higher rates because it sampled produce more likely to be exposed to increased pesticide use, compared to the samples used in the national monitoring program.

But in his report, auditor-general Colin Murphy said the department did not adequately follow up on the incidents to understand or address the causes.

“Licensing and inspection processes need to be strengthened for some high-risk licence categories,” the report said.

“Results of monitoring and inspection programs need better follow up to ensure appropriate action is taken and agencies could better plan and coordinate inspection and monitoring activities to make use of their scarce resources.”

When a sample exceeds accepted pesticide residue limits, the department informs the local government from where the sample originated, which then follows up the matter with the grower.

Mr Murphy said there was no other formal analysis or reporting of the results, industry was not provided any feedback and the results were not used to inform other compliance programs.

Mr Murphy was also critical of the both the Health Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food for rarely carrying out legislatively-required inspections of licensed pesticide permit holders to check if they are being managed correctly.

He recommended the Health Department ensured all results from the food monitoring program were appropriately followed up by local governments by the end of the year.

He also advised the Pesticides Advisory Committee to formalise a process to ensure information collection is coordinated and results were shared between agencies.

Both departments said they welcomed the findings of the report.