The levels of pesticide residue present in New Zealand fruit and vegetables, shown in a study released yesterday, are the worst ever, say pro-organic food lobby groups.

The results of the annual New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) survey revealed there were unacceptable pesticide levels in New Zealand fruit and vegetables, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa spokeswoman Meriel Watts said.

"They are the worst results I have ever seen," Dr Watts said.

It was unacceptable that 94 per cent of fruit and vegetable samples contained traces of pesticides and NZFSA was wrong when it said that no samples contained levels dangerous to human health, she said.

It was particularly disturbing that 11 out of 23 cucumber samples contained residues of the banned chemical endosulfan.

"If we are going to be importing endosulfan-containing food from countries such as Australia, then the food should be labelled with country of origin so that buyers can avoid it," she said.

"But if the residues result from New Zealand growers, then the book should be thrown at them."

The NZFSA study looked at locally produced and imported crops which were prone to exceeding chemical limits, and found nine cucumber samples and one bok choy sample contained traces of endosulfan, which was banned by Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) in January last year.

The chemical, which is banned in 62 countries, was banned in New Zealand after ERMA decided the level of harm of continued use exceeded any benefits.

NZFSA adviser Paul Dansted today reiterated his organisation's view that levels of residue found in fruit and vegetables did not pose a risk to human health.

The pro-organic groups who had come out strongly against the results had a different perspective and thought that all pesticides were harmful, Dr Dansted said.

NZFSA based its assessments on World Health Organisation standards.

The numbers of fruit and vegetable samples which had residues over guidelines was still a concern, however, and NZFSA was carrying out investigations into the breaches.

Dr Watts said nine out of 24 bok choy samples contained illegal levels of chlorothalonil, which was shown to be dangerous to human health.

"The NZFSA is being extremely negligent about New Zealanders' health when it plays down the safety risks of illegal levels of the fungicide chlorothalonil," she said.

Spokespeople from the Soil & Health Association and the NZ Safe Food Campaign agreed with Dr Watts and said the best way to avoid dangerous pesticides was to buy organic food.

- NZPA