Carbendazim is a fungicide of major concern. It is suspected that the chemical has hormone disrupting effects. It has been highlighted by Friends of the Earth as one of their ‘filthy four’ pesticides as it could be harmful to human health and the environment.

Developed by chemical giants, BASF (now part of Bayer) and Dupont, carbendazim is used to control a broad range of diseases on arable crops which include cereals, oilseed rape, fruits, vegetables and ornamentals. The global market is worth over $200 million at user level — equivalent to over 12,000 tones of active ingredient.

Carbendazim is a suspected endocrine disruptor. It 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.

Carbendazim has been in the news because of issues over residues in foodstuffs. It is one of the twelve most commonly detected pesticides in EU monitoring programmes. In 2000, it was found in baby food made by Heinz and Milupa and sold in Tesco and Waitrose. Additionally, in 2000, one third of all pears, 16% of apples tested, and over a quarter (27%) of apple juice samples contained carbendazim residues. Although carbendazim was only found in low doses on all the samples, it is an issue because babies are especially vulnerable, and apples and pears are amongst those foodstuffs most commonly eaten by toddlers.

Animals exposed to carbendazim in the womb have serious deformities such as lack of eyes and hydrocephalus (water on the brain). Carbendazim can disrupt the development of sperm and damage testicular development in adult rats. For example one study of benomyl (which has carbendazim as its main metabolite) found ‘testicular atrophy and degeneration and foetotoxicity’.

However, despite the known effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals, on wildlife, in providing their opinion on carbendazim the Scientific Committee on Plants found there were only minor signs of reproductive toxicity at high doses and no effects on development in the absence of maternal and/or paternal toxicity.