Carbendazim is a fungicide that plays a very important role in plant disease control, it was first used in 1973 and was developed by BASF, Hoeschst (now part of Bayer) and Dupont. It is used to control a broad range of diseases on crops like cereals, oilseeds like rape, fruits, vegetables and ornamentals.
It is most used in Europe and the Far East. In China, Carbendazim’s production is over 8000 tonnes per year, and 1000 tonnes are produced every year in India, where the increasing consumption of carbendazim has now reached over 700 tonnes per annum.
It is reported to be moderately toxic to honeybees, earthworms and most aquatic organisms, It is not approved for use in the US as it is not approved by USFDA but it is currently approved for use in the EU. It is, however, reported as a reproduction/developmental toxicant.
Carbendazim is a fungicide of major concern due to its suspected hormone disrupting effects. It was highlighted by ‘Friends of the Earth’ as one of their ‘filthy four’ pesticides as it could be harmful to human health and the environment. Its use in the UK, is declining as there are more effective fungicides coming into the market.
Research on mice has shown an increase in tumours in two out of three studies. However, in reviewing other data, the Scientific Committee on Plants showed there was no DNA-reactive effect so they concluded ‘these mouse liver tumours could not be interpreted as predicting a carcinogenic hazard to humans’.
Effect on hormones and reproduction in humans
It is a suspected endocrine disruptor and has been included by the European Commission on a priority list of chemicals that are believed to affect hormone function. Friends of the Earth have found evidence that carbendazim can damage the development of mammals in the womb.
In a study by Mantovani and others, showed animals exposed to carbendazim in the womb to have serious deformities such as lack of eyes and hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
A study in adult rats has shown that it can disrupt the development of sperm and damage testicular development in them.
Carbendazim is in the news because of issues over residues of it in foodstuffs. It is one of the twelve most commonly detected pesticides in EU monitoring programmes.
In the year 2000, it was found in baby food made by Heinz and Milupa and sold in Tesco and Waitrose. Also one third of all pears, 16% of apples tested, and over a quarter of apple juice samples contained carbendazim residues.
This is a serious issue because babies are especially vulnerable, and apples and pears are amongst those foodstuffs most commonly eaten by toddlers.