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Most EU Foods Within Pesticides Limits

13 March 2015

EU - A test of different foods by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has shown that more than 97 per cent contain pesticide residue levels that fall within legal limits.

The evaluation showed that just under 55 per cent of samples were free of detectable traces of these chemicals.

The findings are part of EFSA’s 2013 annual report on pesticide residues in food, which includes the results for almost 81,000 food samples from 27 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway.

The 29 reporting countries carry out two monitoring programmes for the report: a national programme designed by each country, and an EU-coordinated programme under which all food control authorities monitor the same “basket” of food products.

A combined total of 80,967 samples of a wide variety of processed and unprocessed food products were tested for the presence of 685 pesticides.

The main findings are:
• 97.4 per cent of the samples analysed fell within legal limits;
• 54.6 per cent were free of detectable residues;
• 1.5 per cent clearly exceeded the legal limits, taking into account the measurement uncertainty, thus triggering legal or administrative sanctions against the food business operators responsible;
• Residues of more than one pesticide (multiple residues) were found in 27.3 per cent of samples.

The majority of samples (68.2 per cent) were taken from food originating in Europe, with 27.7 per cent coming from food imported from third countries.

The percentage of samples from third countries exceeding legal limits was higher (5.7 per cent) than for EU countries (1.4 per cent). However, the rates of imported foods that exceed the limits have fallen by nearly two percentage points (from 7.5 per cent) since 2012.

For the EU co-ordinated programme, the reporting states tested 11,582 samples from 12 food products – apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, peaches, rye, oats, strawberries, tomatoes, cow’s milk, pig meat and wine.

The results showed that 99.1 per cent of the samples contained residue levels within permissible limits and almost 53 per cent contained no measurable residues.

Overall, 0.9 per cent of the samples exceeded the MRL (113 samples); 0.5 per cent of the samples were found to be non-compliant with the legal limit, taking into account the measurement uncertainty.

The number of samples with measurable residues but within the legally permitted level was 5 353 (46.3 per cent).

In 52.8 per cent of the samples (6 116 samples), no quantifiable residues were found (residues below the LOQ). Under the EU-coordinated programme no MRL exceedances were identified for rye, cow’s milk and swine meat.

The highest MRL exceedance rate was found for strawberries (2.5 per cent of the samples), followed by lettuce (2.3 per cent), oats (1.3 per cent), peaches (1.1 per cent) and apples (1.0 per cent).

The MRL exceedance rate was below 1 per cent for the remaining products – head cabbage (0.9 per cent), tomatoes (0.9 per cent) leek (0.5 per cent) and wine (0.1 per cent).

Samples containing more than one pesticide in individual samples (multiple residues) were found in all food products.

The products with the highest percentage of samples with multiple residues were strawberries (63 per cent), peaches (53 per cent), apples (46 per cent) and lettuce (36 per cent).

Lower occurrence levels were recorded for oats (28 per cent), tomatoes (27 per cent), wine (23 per cent), rye (16 per cent), leek (14 per cent) and head cabbage (4.8 per cent).

The presence of multiple pesticide residues was low in animal products (3.5 per cent for milk and 0.5 per cent for swine meat).

Compared with the results for 2010, when the same food products – excluding wine – were tested, the percentage of samples exceeding the legal limits has fallen for all food products tested.

EFSA used the data from the EU co-ordinated programme to assess whether current dietary exposure to pesticide residues presented a risk to human health in the long term (chronic) or short term (acute).

The Authority concluded that the presence of pesticide residues in food was unlikely to have a long-term effect on consumer health.

For short-term exposure, the risk of European citizens being exposed to harmful levels of residues via their diet was rated as low.


Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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