Experts warn of soil pesticide residues

By Stephen Cadogan

Researchers have called for urgent EU action, after finding cocktails of pesticide residues in more than 80% of agricultural soils in 11 member states.

File photo

Experts from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands tested for 76 pesticide residues in agricultural topsoils, and found that over 80% of the 317 samples had residues.

The tests were done in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the UK.

The highest residue readings were found in the UK, Poland, and Germany.

Tests showed 43 different pesticides residues in soil.

However, 58% of the samples contained a mixture of multiple pesticide residues, sometimes up to 13 different chemicals, while 25% of the samples had just one pesticide residue type.

More than 150 different pesticide mixtures were identified in soils.

Not surprisingly, glyphosate and its residues were found.

But the other chemical remains of pesticides most frequently found and at highest concentrations included metabolites of DDT, use of which has been forbidden in the EU since the 1970s.

The researchers warned that the toxic effects of mixtures of pesticide residues on soil organism communities are unknown.

Toxicity assessment by the European Authority on Food Safety (EFSA) only includes the effects of single residues on a few soil organisms.

The researchers called for urgent efforts to test for the effects of individual pesticides, and pesticide mixtures, on a wide spectrum of essential soil organisms, and revision of current pesticide approval procedures.

Meanwhile, attention has been drawn to the very low organic matter content, between zero and 2%, of 45% of soils in Europe.

“Reversing this process, to build up soil carbon stocks, has the potential to sequester a lot of carbon,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan in his keynote address to the European Dairy Association Annual Conference in Dublin.

“Practices like the use of winter cover, catch crops, crop rotation, adding legumes, reduced or nil tillage can contribute to soil carbon stocks,” he added.

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