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Agrotoxic substances everywhere… even in your soup


Nestlé baby food products and other foodstuff found to contain traces of agrotoxic substances  


In the midst of all the toasting and fireworks of the holidays, the news almost went by unnoticed. It all started last Dec. 27, when the consumer protection group Liga Ciudadana de Consumidores released the findings of a lab study conducted in Chile on five baby foods (fruit purées), revealing that three of the products tested contained traces of agrotoxic substances. The study also detected similar components in an asparagus soup mix distributed under the “Golden Years” label as part of the Health Ministry’s senior citizens nutrition program, and in an orange juice product.


The study,1 conducted by Cecilia Castillo,2 measured pesticide residues in processed foods made with fruits, vegetables, garden greens, and/or cereals. The samples were obtained from a supermarket in Santiago,3 refrigerated and taken directly to the laboratory duly sealed and numbered, as per a strict protocol. The products were then tested for pesticide content at Laboratorio Andes Control, which delivered its findings on Dec. 17.


Alarming findings


Of the five samples of baby food tested, three (Gerber-Nestlé prune purée, Nestlé fruit medley purée, and Nestlé peach purée) contained traces of Iprodione, a toxic fungicide used in agriculture. This substance is classified as a category 3 carcinogen under European Union (EU) regulations. This category is given to substances that may pose a risk to humans owing to their possible carcinogenic effects, but which as yet have not been adequately assessed due to lack of conclusive evidence. Iprodione causes hormonal disorders and affects the liver, suprarenal glands, testes, ovaries, prostate, kidneys, and seminal vesicles.


The values found in the prune and peach purées were 0.04 mg/kg and 0.08 mg/kg, respectively, thus exceeding the maximum limits set by EU regulations for agrotoxic substance residues in food. The fruit medley purée has the EU maximum limit for pesticide residues in baby food (0.01 mg/kg), which also coincides with this method’s detection limit.


The results also reveal traces of the agriculture-grade insecticide Carbaryl in an orange juice marketed by the company Watt’s. The concentration level of the residue found in this product is at the detection limit for this pesticide (0.01 mg/kg). Carbaryl is a highly toxic product that can cause peripheral neuropathies, nerve degeneration, and arm and leg paralysis. It causes kidney toxicity and possibly aplastic anemia and male and female fertility problems. It has been linked to the development of brain tumors in children and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Another product tested was the Crema Años Dorados Espárrago, a creamed asparagus soup mix distributed by the Health Ministry under the National Supplementary Food Program for the Elderly (PACAM), which also revealed traces of agrotoxic substances.


Sound suggestions


Based on this data, Liga Ciudadana recommended that the manufacturers of the food products containing hazardous substances voluntarily remove the products in question from the market. The consumer protection group also asked the Health Ministry to demand that, failing voluntary removal, the companies withdraw their products, and to suspend the distribution of contaminated food delivered through its supplementary food programs. In addition, it made an urgent call for health authorities to screen food products more rigorously for pesticide residues, especially food products meant for children, pregnant women, and the elderly.


Moreover, Omar Pérez Santiago, executive secretary and project coordinator at Liga Ciudadana, called on Health Minister Jaime Mañalich to urgently and systematically monitor agrotoxic substance residues. According to Pérez, health authorities should be checking for compliance with agrotoxic substance use regulations and guaranteeing that children’s foods do not exceed maximum residue limits of agrotoxic substances. “The health of the population comes first,” he said. “Our study only tested a sample of these purées. It’s the responsibility of the health to monitor these products to determine the levels of residue present in them, and make sure that they are safe for child consumption.”


A deplorable charade


This gave way to a deplorable and revealing charade played out in the news, which we summarize below.




- Public Health Undersecretary Liliana Jadue declares that children would not be at risk by eating the food products found to contain residues of agrotoxic substances. For his part, Guillermo Figueroa, chief of the Microbiology and Probiotic Laboratory of the Nutrition and Food Technology Institute speaks out to refute Jadue’s statement saying it is “illogical to think that it’s normal for food to contain pesticides.”


- Despite the absence of national regulations regarding agrotoxic content in processed foods, the Public Health Institute (ISP) decides to take samples of the baby food products in question.


- Nestlé issues a press release declaring that, as stated by health authorities, the three questioned products are fully in compliance with applicable regulations in force, and therefore no violations of pesticide regulations have been committed and the population has not been exposed to any risks.





- As the samples are still being analyzed, ISP Director María Teresa Valenzuela states that the agrotoxic residue concentrations found in Nestlé baby foods are “very low,” are consistent with the “lowest possible risk, and have a very short lifespan.” However, she fails to explain why the agrotoxic substance is still present in the purées despite such a short lifespan.


- Guido Girardi, president of the Senate’s health committee, goes before the country’s National High Comptrollership Office to request that an investigation of the Public Health Undersecretary’s Office be conducted to determine its administrative integrity. According to Girardi, Undersecretary Liliana Jadue has unduly defended the company Nestlé.


- For Ricardo Uauy, head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Scientific Committee, it is essential that Chile begin periodically monitoring food products, given that it currently has no control mechanisms in place. In his opinion, the only way to measure the risks the population may be exposed to in their consumption of processed food products is to establish a national registry of cancer, malformations, and other health disorders, as other countries have done.





- ISP confirms the presence of agrotoxic substances in Nestlé’s peach- and prune-flavored baby foods, in higher doses than previously detected by the Andes Control laboratory and very high according to European regulations. Nonetheless, health authorities assure consumers that there is no need to be alarmed, because “as there is no Chilean regulation governing this matter, there is no need to stop consuming this product.4


- After ISP confirms the presence of traces of agrotoxic substances in Nestlé baby food products, Liga Ciudadana de Defensa del Consumidor demands that the Health Ministry immediately withdraw the products from the market and begin drafting strict regulations to ban the presence of such contaminants from processed foods. In addition, the group’s executive secretary describes María Teresa Valenzuela’s comments as “disrespectful to consumers and harmful to public health.”


- Liliana Jadue informs that Nestlé has decided to discontinue the sale of the peach-flavored products analyzed. “It’s Nestlé’s decision; so they are going to stop marketing the product,” she says.


- Despite the results of the tests conducted by ISP, Nestlé insists that its baby food products present no health risk. It explains that “in Chile, Iprodione is classified in the group of level 4 pesticides, which are the pesticides with the lowest risks.”





- Liga Ciudadana de Consumidores asks Nestlé to withdraw all of the baby food products that have been found to contain traces of Iprodione. “We are calling on the company, as we did through the letter we sent yesterday to Nestlé’s CEO in Switzerland, to pull all pesticide-containing fruit purées from supermarket shelves,” a press release from the group reads.


- In reference to María Teresa Valenzuela’s statements, Cecilia Castillo declares, “we think it is inappropriate for health authorities to say that these products are harmless and to cause this degree of confusion.” And she goes on to say, “we will stop worrying as soon as anybody can guarantee that the products as they are now can be sold in Europe.”


- María Elena Rozas, Coordinator of the Chilean alternative pest control group Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas en Chile, steps in stating that in Europe Iprodione is classified as a R40 risk phrase product, which means it poses possible risks of irreversible carcinogenic and reproductive system effects. She also notes that it has a silent chronic effect on children that may only manifest itself eigth to ten years after being consumed daily. According to the WHO, the fact that infants have a lower body mass requires that regulations be even stricter in the case of food marketed for children.





- Liga Ciudadana meets with Health Minister Jaime Mañalich, who promises to immediately request that Nestlé discontinue sale of its prune-flavored baby food as well.





- Cecilia Castillo states, “80 percent of the population misunderstands what they read, and I think the ISP director [María Teresa Valenzuela] falls under that percentage. What the European regulation says is that all pesticides must comply with the 0.01 milligrams per kilo of food, and that, of course, includes Iprodione. And there is a list [of substances] that are subject to even stricter limits. If she doesn’t understands that, she’ll have to take a reading course to learn how to interpret correctly.”


And to top it all off…


But there was one final incident that just took the cake, or shall we say ‘took the purée.’


In Chile there is an organization called Acción RSE, founded in May 2000 by representatives of the business community with the goal of furthering corporate social responsibility in companies operating in the country. It is also a representative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). In its website, Acción RSE claims that it “sees corporate social responsibility as a vital business approach for companies to attain medium- and long-term sustainability and competitiveness, harmoniously integrating respect for ethical values, individuals, the community and the environment.”5


Last December, a few days prior to the agrotoxic residue scandal, Acción RSE partially renewed its board, and one of the new directors elected was Fernando del Solar, CEO of Nestlé Chile. The importance that Nestlé places on the values that Acción RSE claims to defend is evident in the fact that del Solar did not even have the decency to take a leave of absence from the association’s board until the purée affair was resolved and the responsibility of the company he heads was determined.


From Parque del Plata, Enildo Iglesias


January 12, 2011

Enildo Iglesias





Illustration: Allan McDonald, Rel-UITA

1 We recommend reading it. You can find a copy here.

2 Renowned professional who served for ten years as Head of the Nutrition Department in the Health Ministry.

3 The asparagus soup mix sample from the Health Ministry program was donated by an elderly beneficiary from the Metropolitan area.

4 To date, nobody has been penalized for putting out such an outrageous argument.

5 Stress added by us.


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