March 20-30 marked the 4th annual edition of “Semaine Sans Pesticides“ - a national awareness week to remind people of the seriousness of the issue in France. Just as the market stalls fill up with tempting displays of strawberries and aspargus, it’s worth remembering that France is the world’s third biggest user of pesticides, and the number one in Europe, with a staggering 76,000 tons sprayed in 2008.
According to the latest figures, 7.2 percent of fruit and vegetables in France contain pesticide residues which are over the maximum authorized limits fixed by the European Commission. High-risk vegetables are peppers, chilies, tomatoes, lettuce, leeks and spinach. Among fruits - 8.5 percent have over the limit concentrations of pesticides - the ones to avoid are strawberries, mandarins and grapes.
“The longer the storage time is, the more the contaminated products migrate from the skin to the fruit,” François Veillerette, president of the anti-pesticide NGO MDRGF, told Le Monde in an article last week. Apples, for instance, can be contaminated up to 5 mm under the skin. Useful tips for minimizing pesticide levels are steaming instead of boiling, and discarding the core and external leaves of cabbage and lettuce.