Pesticide residues in food in decline: EFSA

Posted by James Ferre on 10th July 2009

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has discovered that consumer intake of pesticides through food consumption has fallen from 2006 levels. Their latest report showed that the majority of the samples complied with the legal maximum residue levels of pesticides and made a series of recommendations to further improve the collection of data required for pesticide exposure assessment.The report, prepared by EFSA’s Pesticide Risk Assessment Peer Review Unit, said that 96 % of the samples analysed were compliant with the legal Maximum Residues Levels (MRLs) and 4% exceeded them, compared to 5% in 2006.

In total, more than 74,000 samples of nearly 350 different types of food were analysed for pesticide residues in 2007, representing a 13 % increase in comparison with 2006. Considerable efforts were made by Member States in extending the scope of the analytical methods, which made it possible to detect up to 870 pesticides in 2007 – an increase of 13 % compared to previous years.

The MRLs are set at levels which are both safe for consumers and correspond to the lowest amount of pesticide used on the crop to achieve the desired effect. EFSA specified that the presence of pesticides in foods, and even the exceedance of an MRL, does not necessarily imply a food safety concern. When an MRL is exceeded, consumer exposure needs to be calculated in order to assess whether this represents a potential risk for consumers.

In assessing long-term consumer exposure, EFSA followed a cautious approach, using conservative assumptions which overestimate exposure. For all evaluated pesticides, except one (diazinon), the chronic exposure did not raise concerns for consumer health.

The assessment of short-term exposure was also based on worst-case scenarios. Thus, estimates took into consideration high food consumption combined with the highest residue observed in the 2007 EU monitoring programme. Such critical intake cases are in reality very unlikely to occur. Assuming this scenario was to occur, a potential consumer risk could not be excluded for some of the results concerning 52 pesticide/commodity combinations, many of which have already been addressed by withdrawing authorisations or by lowering MRLs.