Sweet, refreshing, poisonous? With slogans such as "Better without poison" and "poisonous temptation in the basket", the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) recently warned against eating strawberries from conventional cultivation. These would have a "high pesticide load". The environmental protection organization referred to a study on measured residues of pesticides in strawberries.

Anne Kokenbrink

Editor in the economy

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This is not a cause for concern, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) has now clarified. According to the current state of knowledge, these strawberries can be eaten without hesitation. "In no sample was the legally stipulated maximum residue level exceeded or even close to being reached," it said in a statement. All plant protection products would be subject to strict authorisation procedures. Health risks can therefore be ruled out "with sufficient certainty".

Criticism of multiple burdens

On Monday, the BUND had reported on proven residues of pesticides in several strawberry samples. The organization relied on laboratory tests of fruits from various traders. In 15 of the 19 strawberry samples examined, residues of a total of eight agents against fungal diseases (fungicides) were found. There was no information on the limits complied with in the analysis. BUND is very concerned about multiple exposures, i.e. the detection of several agents in one sample.

There are indications that different active ingredients increase their toxic effect. The criticism is that this issue would not take sufficient account of the risk assessment. The BfR gave the all-clear: even if several active ingredients were detectable in strawberries at the same time, this was not harmful to health. This is because the residues are minimal. All proven active ingredients have been toxicologically evaluated and found to be safe.

Industry is angry

Among German strawberry farmers, the BUND campaign was met with resentment. "This week, which is the highest turnover for strawberries in Germany, such a message does not come by chance," says Fred Eickhorst, Managing Director of the Association of Asparagus and Berry Growers, in an interview. He describes the action as a "polemic". From his point of view, the results of the samples are excellent – and a song of praise for German cultivation.

However, the BUND had distorted them. Other studies, such as those of the State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL) in Bavaria, would provide similar results. The QS quality assurance system, in which more than 90 percent of German strawberry farmers participate, also regularly carries out residue samples. The exceedance rate in Germany is only 0.64 percent, says Eickhorst. In an international comparison, this is an outstanding value.

If you want to do without chemical-synthetic agents, BUND advises you to grow your own strawberries or buy organic goods. But sometimes this is not easy, there are hardly any German organic strawberries. And not without reason, says Eickhorst: "Strawberries in the open field are extremely susceptible to rot. Without effective pesticides, cultivation is not economically viable." For years, fewer, not more, strawberries have been grown organically.

In principle, many farmers are prepared to use fewer pesticides. A legislative package is being discussed at EU level. Farmers fear, however, considerable yield losses, as a reduction in pesticides by half is being discussed