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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

An overview by ANSES of the Caribbean population's food-based exposure to pesticide residues

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News of 02/11/2012

Due to their specific eating habits and to the pests affecting tropical agriculture, the Caribbean population may be exposed to special risks associated with pesticide residues in their food. In the framework of the "Chlordecone" national action plan, ANSES conducted the Sapotille study in order to assess this risk. The study excluded chlordecone, which had already been examined in a number of targeted studies. In general, the results of this study, excluding chlordecone, do not show any specific levels of pesticide residues in foods or particular consumer exposure levels in the Caribbean. This study is an initial "snapshot" of the exposure of the Caribbean population to pesticide residues and contributes to improved traceability of food contamination by these residues. It should however be rounded out through the acquisition of further updated consumption and contamination data.

Exposition of the general French population to pesticide residues is traditionally assessed based on consumption and contamination data representative of metropolitan France. However, due to the particular eating habits of the Caribbean population - with a large proportion of tropical fruits and vegetables and fishery products - as well as the specific pests that affect tropical agriculture, Caribbeans may be exposed to special risks associated with pesticide residues in their food.
In order to assess this risk, ANSES proposed within the framework of the "Chlordecone" national action plan for 2008-2010, improved characterisation of food-based exposure of Caribbean consumers to pesticide residues. The results of this assessment, conducted in the context of the "Sapotille" study, were published today. The study excluded chlordecone, which had already been examined in a number of targeted studies.

The Agency's work

Initially, the substances to be analysed with top priority with regard to risk were identified among all the substances that are currently, or were previously, authorised by French law and which could therefore be found in foodstuffs (444 substances). The top-priority substances identified during this prioritisation phase (about fifty) were then screened for in 122 composite samples representative of 30 types of local foodstuffs. In all, close to 8 500 analysis results (coupled matrices + substances) were obtained for the 55 substances. This contamination data was combined with food consumption data from the Escal (Martinique, 2004) and Calbas (Guadeloupe, 2005) studies in order to evaluate the exposure of the Caribbean population to pesticide residues and to compare it with Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADI). In order to obtain a sufficient amount of data, the contamination data from the Caribbean and metropolitan surveillance plans were also used.

Results

> For 22 substances, representing 40% of the top-priority substances analysed, assessment of consumer exposure still shows levels below the ADI.

> For 14 substances, representing 25% of the top-priority substances analysed, the risk of exceeding the ADI cannot be excluded for certain population groups. Among these, 8 substances were detected in foodstuffs of local origin and 7 show a probability of greatly exceeding the ADI for at least one age group. In most cases, the age group affected is children between 3 and 15 years of age. These 7 substances are: diazinon, dimethoate, dieldrin, endrin, oxydemeton-methyl, parathion and phorate.
Only dimethoate is still currently authorised for use. Dieldrin and endrin are environmentally persistent organic pollutants which were widely used in the past and which have been banned for approximately twenty years. Diazinon, dieldrin and phorate were detected in locally-produced foodstuffs (diazinon in chicken and pineapple samples, dieldrin in water samples, and phorate in fish samples, respectively). Recent past use in the Caribbean of dimethoate and parathion has been identified.

> Lastly, for 19 substances, representing approximately 35% of the top-priority substances analysed, the current state of scientific knowledge does not enable us to reach a formal conclusion in terms of risk assessment; additional studies will be needed in order to improve analysis methods and to set toxicity reference values.

Despite methodological differences, the results of the Sapotille study are not significantly different from those of the second Total Diet Study (TDS2) conducted in metropolitan France. In general, the results of this study, excluding chlordecone, do not show any specific levels of pesticide residues in foods or particular consumer exposure levels in the Caribbean. As for the TDS2, ANSES recalls that chemical risks (like nutritional risks) can be kept to a minimum by avoiding regular consumption of large quantities of a small number of foods, and it stresses the importance of a well-diversified and well-balanced diet including a wide variety of foods (fruits, vegetables, dairy products, cereals and grains, fish, meats).

This study is an essential first step in estimating the exposure of the Caribbean population to pesticide residues. It contributes to improving traceability of food contamination by these residues. In order to keep uncertainty to a minimum, these initial results should be supported and completed with the acquisition of further consumption and contamination data, and updated with the aid of more precise techniques (analysis methods in particular). This work should target substances whose use is authorised in the Caribbean or which have been used in the past and still persist in the environment, as well as the main food matrices. Improvements in analytical performance, especially as regards test sensitivity, should be a priority in order to more precisely characterise the Caribbean population's food exposure to pesticide residues.

Find out more

> Le rapport d'étude "Evaluation de l'exposition alimentaire aux pesticides de la population antillaise - Etude Sapotille" de septembre 2012 (in French)

> Notre dossier "Évaluation du risque alimentaire associé au chlordécone et autres résidus de pesticides pour la population antillaise" (in French)