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Comparing apples to oranges

The fruits and vegetables to be analysed by each country are established at a European level but it then lets each and every country decide how to sample even when it comes to their country of origin. Photo: Shutterstock.com

The fruits and vegetables to be analysed by each country are established at a European level but it then lets each and every country decide how to sample even when it comes to their country of origin. Photo: Shutterstock.com

I refer to the article entitled ‘Maltese fruit and veg top EU pesticide list’, (The Sunday Times of Malta, July 29).

The list in question is published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) every year which reports on the pesticide test results obtained by the respective competent authority of each EU Member State.

But one would do well to wonder, are Maltese farmers so irresponsible in their actions? Why do we keep topping this list? Are we really doing this badly?

If one had to zoom and dissect this report further one might start to get a clearer picture of the situation. Firstly EFSA does not bind the national competent authorities (in Malta’s case, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority) as to what should be the country of origin of the fruits and vegetables sampled. National authorities can decide to take any percentage of domestic and non-domestic samples from the market.

Only three other European countries decided to take more domestic samples than we did. The Netherlands took 19 per cent of their samples from domestic sources, Finland 16 per cent, Bulgaria took four per cent and we took 74 per cent of our samples from produce grown by local farmers. Bulgaria reports that a very small percentage of their samples had excessive chemicals but how can that be compared with our results? How can we say that Maltese produce has more excessive chemicals than the Bulgarian ones when only four per cent of the total Bulgarian samples were of domestic origin?

The interpretation of the results should be contextualised further. The fruits and vegetables to be analysed by each country are established at a European level but it then lets each and every country decide how to sample even when it comes to their country of origin.

Let’s take peaches as an example – a fruit which is renowned to be relatively high-risk when it comes to its pesticide adsorption on its skin. The Maltese competent authority decided to take the whole peach sample from local sources and none from imported ones. How can we say that Maltese peaches have more chemicals than the imported ones when we did not test one Italian peach to begin with? The Maltese competent authority decided to take apples, bananas and grapes from Italy.

Furthermore, in Malta’s National Action Plan for Sustainable Use of Pesticides 2013-2018 drafted by same Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, it is written that the authority together with other entities will develop guidelines to encourage pesticide users to make use of pesticides more sustainably and find alternative methods of plant protection.

If such guidelines were identified to be necessary to assist farmers to make more sustainable use of pesticides and we are reporting that farmers are not managing to do so, then there is a missing link somewhere. Were such guidelines prepared? Were they communicated adequately to farmers?

The farming community needs technical assistance to be able to comprehend the methods and systems that can be used to find alternative methods of plant protection. We cannot expect farmers to do so on their own – it doesn’t happen anywhere in the world and it will not happen here. But I think we can all agree that this will definitely not happen if our starting point is to continue trying to hound farmers by comparing apples to oranges – literally.

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