New report on pesticide use in imported legumes

Most of the grain legumes consumed in Sweden today are imported but little is known about the pesticide footprint of these grain legumes. As official trade statistics are unreliable, an inventory of grain legumes sold in Sweden was performed based on a total of 126 packages of dried and canned beans, peas and lentils found in Swedish supermarkets. China was the single most common declared country or origin with a majority being organic products. The second most frequently declared country of origin was Canada (see figure below). Based on this, Canada and China were selected for a deeper investigation on pesticide use in grain legume production.

The information on pesticide use in China and Canada was scarce. In Sweden, there are official statistics available on pesticide use per hectare for different crops, including grain legumes. No such data of pesticide use intensity are available in either Canada or China.

Regarding China, a heavy overuse of pesticides in Chinese agriculture in general has been reported and explained by lack of regulation and knowledge among the farmers. The average use of pesticides in 2010 was reported to be 19 kg active ingredients per hectare. This value can be compared with the typical dose in Swedish production of peas and beans which is in the magnitude of 1 kg active ingredient per hectare. Pesticide residues found in Chinese food products often exceed the maximal residue limit (MRL) and cowpea in particular has been frequently reported to exceed MRL.

Most lentils consumed in Sweden originate from Canada or Turkey. Glyphosate is frequently used in Canada resulting in problems with glyphosate tolerant weeds. Lentils also stand out as the food item with highest incident of glyphosate residues in food consumed in EU according to EFSA.

LCA is commonly used for assessment of environmental impact of different food products but very few LCA studies include assessment of toxicological impact of pesticide use. And when it is included, the lack of a harmonized method to assess the toxicological impacts make comparisons of results difficult. This together with the lack of available statistics and monitoring of grain legumes produced outside Sweden make it difficult to compare pesticide footprint of different grain legumes for Swedish consumption. There are however indications that replacing conventionally grown imported grain legumes with organically and/or domestically produced will reduce the pesticide footprint considerably and provide a higher level of transparency as regards production methods.

Read the whole report here:

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