The Department of Agriculture (DOA) insists it has imposed strict measures to check on chemical residues in vegetables and fruits before granting them Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and organic product certifications.
The department made the statement Thursday after a food safety survey conducted by the Thai-Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) showed that more than half the fruits and vegetables awarded the government's "Q mark" for quality were found to be highly contaminated with chemical residues.
The GAP certification is given after a chemical safety check is performed on produce at farms and orchards while the Q mark is issued before the produce is sold to consumers.
The Thai-Pan survey was conducted on 138 samples of popular fruits and vegetables in greater Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani from March 16-18. Samples were sent to a lab in the United Kingdom for examination using a multi-residue pesticide screen method to test for 450 substances.
The overall results showed 46.6% of samples contained residues higher than the accepted safety standard.
Notably, 57% of fruits and vegetables granted the Q mark by the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), were found to have unsafe levels of contaminants.
Also, 25% of the products certified as being organic, which were supposed to be free of chemicals, were found to contain chemical residues exceeding accepted standards.
It showed that 100% of red chillies had harmful residues exceeding standards, followed by basil and long beans (66.7%), Chinese kale (55.6%), Chinese cabbage (33.3%), morning glory (22.2%), and tomatoes and cucumbers (11.1%).
However, 100% of non-Chinese cabbage samples were free of contaminants.
For fruits, all of the tested oranges and guava were contaminated with harmful residues exceeding standards. About 71% of dragon fruit, 66% of papayas and 44% of nam dokmai mangoes had residues. Watermelons were free of harmful residues.
The survey results later went viral on social media and frightened the public. Some say high chemical residue levels in those crops can pose health risks and even cause cancer.
The DOA said in its statement Thursday that before GAP certification is issued, farmers are required to submit information about their crops to the department.
If the department finds contamination in the produce, farmers are given a deadline to solve the problem. If they fail to rectify the issue, they will be denied the certification.
The department said the Thai-Pan survey, although negative to the produce certification, helps raise public awareness of the issue.
The DOA will also trace back contaminated vegetables and fruits found in the Thai-Pan survey to the farmland they originated on.
The DOA also said it has confiscated pesticides which were illegally smuggled into the country over the past several years. Last year, several suspects were arrested and charged with possessing methomyl, paclobutrazol and methyl eugenol used for producing pesticides.