Sausage, hamburger and nugget: research identifies pesticides in food

An unprecedented survey published this Wednesday (27) reveals that foods of animal origin consumed every day by thousands of Brazilians, such as mortadella, industrialized curd cheese and sausages, contain pesticide residues.

The second volume of the study ‘There’s poison in this package’, carried out by the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Protection (Idec), analyzed 24 ultra-processed foods made from meat and dairy and found the presence of pesticides in the composition of 58% of the products. At least one pesticide was detected in all brands of sausage, beef hamburger and chicken fingers analyzed in the study.

The champion of poisons was the breaded chicken Seara. According to the research, five substances were found in it, among them glyphosate and glufosinate. On the other hand, the Itambé curd cheese and the chicken nuggets from Sadia and Perdigão had a concentration of substances higher than what is allowed in their staple foods.

Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) does not establish maximum limits for pesticide residues in ultra-processed products, but indicates comparative bases from basic foods. In the case of breaded chicken, for example, the researchers were able to identify the presence above the permitted limit of the methyl pyrimiphos pesticide, which has a maximum residue limit for chicken or a by-product that serves as the basis for the production of nuggets. Other pesticides, such as bifenthrin, do not have defined maximum limits for the food used as raw material for ultra-processed products, which prevents the analysis of the presence of pesticides above the permitted level.

To the report, Anvisa did not respond if a product that exceeds the limit established for its staple food can be withdrawn from the market. The Agency only informed that in cases where pesticide residues are detected above the permitted level, it is necessary to carry out a risk assessment and identify the potential risk to the health of the consumer. “First, it is important to clarify that residues above the MRL [Limite Máximo de Resíduo] report a type of nonconformity that does not necessarily represent a risk to consumer health. The MRL is an agronomic parameter, derived from field studies simulating the correct use of pesticides by the farmer”, said Anvisa. (Read the agency’s full response here).

For Idec, Anvisa needs to remove these products from the shelves in order to guarantee the safety of consumers.

Sought by the report, Seara Alimentos said that “all products evaluated respect the parameters for food items regulated by Anvisa”. BRF Foods, owner of the Sadia and Perdigão brands, stressed that “it internally applies strict quality standards that comply with Anvisa and MAPA regulations. [Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento] and are recognized by various control bodies”. (Read the companies’ full responses here).

Breaded chicken from the Seara brand, from the JBS group, was the food with the highest number of pesticides identified, including glyphosate and glufosinate

From soybean crops to ultra-processed

About a year ago, the Institute had already revealed that 59% of the foods consumed mainly by children, such as breakfast cereals, cookies and dairy drinks, also had some type of pesticide in their composition. This time, the researchers decided to test products of animal origin to verify that, even after metabolizing these animals’ bodies and processing the meat and milk, it would still be possible to identify residues of these poisons, which has been proven.

Pesticides appear in dairy and meat products in two ways. The first is directly, for example, from the application of substances to animals to avoid infestation by parasites. The second is through feed produced from soybeans, corn and other grains, crops that use pesticides intensively. Research shows that 63% of the poisons used in Brazil are used for soybean cultivation and 77% of the grain production is used as animal feed.

“The data are worrying because they weave a picture that increasingly the food that arrives on the table of the Brazilian population, whether for children, adults or the elderly, has pesticide residues”, says Rafael Rioja, coordinator of sustainable consumption at Idec.

Analysis did not find pesticides in chocolate-flavored dairy drinks and ultra-processed yogurt, nor in the following brands: Nestlé (Nestlé) requeijão, Sadia calabrese pork sausage (BRF) and Perdigão (BRF), Sadia mortadella (BRF)

dangerous pesticides

The survey also brings up another worrying data. In 37% of the products it was possible to detect glyphosate. The active ingredient is classified as probably carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and is the most used in Brazil. Despite being one of the pesticides that kill most Brazilians, Anvisa chose to keep its registration after a 12-year reassessment.

Glyphosate isn’t the only one raising researchers’ attention. Of the eight pesticides detected, six are related to the onset of chronic diseases. Glufosinate, used as an alternative to glyphosate, is linked to embryonic malformation and problems in the central nervous system, according to tests carried out on rats.

Bifenthrin, fipronil and cypermethrin are classified as possibly carcinogenic by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Chlorpyrifos is associated with neurodevelopmental problems, especially in children. Last year, the US agency banned the use of this pesticide in the country. In Brazil, it follows on the list of the 10 best-selling pesticides.

The Idec coordinator also draws attention to the health consequences that the combination of various pesticides can bring. “There were five different ingredients found in the nuggets, nine found in the tube in 2021. The study shows that in addition to being potentially carcinogenic in isolation, pesticides are the cocktail that increases the risk”, points out Rioja.

According to the researcher, there is a lack of studies to analyze the interaction of these substances in organisms and rules that define limits for this mixture, both in food and in water. The European Union, for example, has a specific regulation that determines the maximum values ​​of cocktails in each liter of water. Here, Anvisa only defines individual limits.

No new limits predicted

Although the possibility of pesticides appearing in ultra-processed products is already known to government agencies and companies, nothing has been done to create rules that define maximum residue limits for these foods.

According to Idec, the survey results were “welcome and received by Anvisa”. The agency already analyzes some processed products – derived directly from in natura foods – in its Program for the Analysis of Residues of Pesticides in Food (PARA). This is the case with wheat flour and soy drink.

In reply to Reporter Brazil and Public Agency last year, the agency said it wanted to gradually include new products in its monitoring. However, in addition to not increasing the number of foods analyzed, since 2019 Anvisa has not published the new PARA results.

Sought by the report again, Anvisa informed that the food analysis program is scheduled to be published later this year and said that the inclusion of ultra-processed products”requires a preliminary study, in order to verify which products best represent the consumption of food by the population. Brazilian population and also the possibility of detecting residues in these products, observing processing factors, which portray the proportion of the active ingredient and metabolites that remain in the processed food”.

Vigor told the report that it did not have access to the technical data of the survey carried out by Idec so that it could analyze and track the batch of the product. “The company reinforces that it constantly carries out internal control programs in all its factories and milk collection stations, as well as monitoring through laboratories accredited in the Brazilian Leite-RBQL quality network, not having verified the presence of insecticides, acaricides and pesticides in their products”. The institute responsible for the research claims to have contacted all the companies mentioned in the study.

Aurora Alimentos stated that it would not answer the questions made by Reporter Brazil and for Public Agency and that it would request clarification on the methodology of the tests carried out by Idec. (Read the companies’ full responses here).

Sought, the dairy producer Itambé did not answer the questions until the closing of this report.

About Yadunandan Singh

Born in 1992, Yadunandan approaches the world of video games thanks to two sacred monsters like Diablo and above all Sonic, strictly in the Sega Saturn version. Ranging between consoles and PCs, he is particularly fond of platform titles and RPGs, not disdaining all other genres and moving in the constant search for the perfect balance between narration and interactivity.

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