All the heavily contaminated vegetables showed the presence of multiple pesticides, indicating a dangerous trend among farmers.

Going vegetarian may not be a good idea yet if you buy your greens from the open market. Dangerous levels of pesticide residue have been detected in samples of five commonly used vegetables available at sales outlets in Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod.

Curry leaf, mint leaf, green chilly, big chilly, and long beans are the most contaminated (exceeding the maximum residue limit prescribed by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India and the European Union), while the pesticide residue in red amaranthus, coriander leaves, beans, salad cucumber, and red capsicum is below the permissible limit.

226 samples

The findings have been revealed in the third report of the Pesticide Residue Research and Analysis Laboratory under the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) which studied a total of 226 samples of 52 vegetables collected from retail shops and markets in the two districts during the period from July to September 2013. The periodic analysis of vegetable samples has been taken up under a project titled “Production and marketing of safe to eat vegetables for sale through government outlets.”

The study detected residues of several pesticides, including Profenophos, a neurotoxic pesticide banned in Kerala and restricted to tea and cotton in other States, and Chlorpyrifos, another neurotoxin. All the heavily contaminated vegetables showed the presence of multiple pesticides, indicating a dangerous trend among farmers.

Safe to eat

The good news for veggies is that 42 vegetables have classified as safe-to-eat. The analysis revealed that all the samples of these 42 vegetables were free of pesticide residue. The second report of the laboratory issued in October 2013 had categorised only 38 vegetables as safe-to-eat.

Interestingly, carrot, green capsicum, cucumber, okra, eggplant, radish, and drumstick which were listed as dangerously contaminated in the second report, have made it to the safe-to-eat category in the third report, while coriander leaf and red amaranthus have moved from the dangerously contaminated category to less contaminated.

Professor and principal investigator of the project Thomas Biju Mathew said this indicated the increasing acceptance of pesticide safety among farmers, though some of the positive results could be attributed to the monsoon rain that helped to wash off the pesticide residue. The bad news, however, is that the samples collected from three premium organic vegetable outlets in Thiruvananthapuram revealed pesticide contamination. While samples of coriander leaf, snake gourd, curry leaf, long beans, okra, sambar chilly, and green chilly exceeded the permissible limit of pesticide residue, carrot, drumstick and beetroot were less contaminated. Samples of 18 vegetables collected from the three organic outlets have been listed as safe-to-eat.

Scientists attached to the project said the organic outlets were blaming suppliers for the pesticide residue found in their products. The report of the study have been posted on the government website www.kerala.gov.in.