BSF chairman defends British strawberries

British Summer Fruits (BSF) chairman Laurence Olins has defended conventionally grown strawberries after the Soil Association criticised them for containing pesticides.

The association has urged consumers to buy organic strawberries this summer after a report published last month by the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) revealed that 90 per cent of strawberries tested by its Pesticide Residues Committee contained residues.

The organic sample tested, however, had no pesticide residues - a fact that the Soil Association has highlighted in its fight against agricultural chemicals.

Soil Association policy campaigner Emma Hockridge said: "Strawberries are one of the British summer's most-anticipated seasonal treats - but these findings that most non-organic straw-berries are tainted with multiple pesticides leave a sour taste.

"There is compelling evidence emerging that the combined effect of pesticides, the 'cocktail effect', even at minuscule levels, is more significant than previously realised. Especially as several of the pesticides found have been proven to have serious health implications.

"Fortunately people can enjoy this traditional British summer treat without worrying about unwanted pesticides by choosing organic strawberries."

However, the Soil Association failed to mention that none of the strawberries tested by PSD contained pesticides above the maximum residue level (MRL).

For this reason, Olins accused the Soil Association of being "deliberately unclear" about the levels of pesticide residues found.

He said: "These levels are deemed by the Government and its health advisers as being perfectly safe for consumption. British Summer Fruits does not know of any incidents of levels being exceeded by its members."

He added: "British Summer Fruits' members, who together represent 85 per cent of the berries sold by supermarkets in the UK, strictly adhere to the rules and regulations laid down by the PSD.

"We keep pesticide use to a minimum in the production of conventionally grown berries by use of polytunnels and the deployment of predator insects to combat the pests that attack our crops. This has helped us to halve pesticide use over the past 10 years."

Olins pointed out that British consumers bought over 52,000 tonnes of strawberries last year - "so we have good reason to believe that shoppers are happy with the quality and taste of the berries produced by our British growers".

Meanwhile, conventionally grown strawberries have been given a boost by consumer magazine Which?, which challenged 120 people to compare the taste of organic, premium and standard range strawberries from each of the large multiples.

The report concluded that it may not be worth paying extra for premium or organic punnets as the tasters reported no significant differences in taste or appearance between standard and premium or organic supermarket own-brand strawberries.

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