The 2009 European Union Report on Pesticide Residues in Food


EFSA Journal 2011;9(11):2430 [225 pp.].
European Food Safety Authority

EFSA wishes to thank EFSA’s staff member Daniela Brocca, Hermine Reich, Jane Richardson and Giuseppe Triacchini for the preparation of this scientific output. Furthermore, EFSA wishes to thank Erica Muller (Netherlands Plant Protection Service; Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation) and Caroline van der Schoor (Dutch Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides) for their independent scientific review of the report. Furthermore, EFSA wishes to thank the members of the Networking Group on Pesticide Monitoring and national experts for the support provided to the preparation of this report. Finally, the contribution of EFSA’s contractor (The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety - AGES) is acknowledged.

Scientific Report of EFSA
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26 October 2011
8 November 2011
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4 April 2012. This version replaces the previous one/s.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Parma Italy
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The report presents the results of the control of pesticide residues in food commodities sampled during the calendar year 2009 in the 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway). The report also comprises the outcome of the consumer risk assessment of pesticide residues. Finally, the report provides some recommendations aiming to improve future monitoring programmes and enforcement of the European pesticide residue legislation. In total, more than 67,000 samples of nearly 300 different types of food were analysed for pesticide residues by national competent authorities. The total number of analytical determinations reported among all the participating countries amounted to more than 14,000,000. 97.4% of the samples complied with the legal maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides. EFSA concluded that the long-term exposure of consumers did not raise health concerns. The short-term exposure assessment revealed that for 77 food samples analysed the acute reference dose (ARfD) might have been exceeded if the pertinent food was consumed in high amounts.


The report gives an overview of the control activities performed in 2009 by the 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway) in order to ensure compliance of food with the standards defined in European legislation on pesticide residues.

Typically, in each European reporting country two control programmes are in place: a national control/monitoring programme (designed by each country) and a coordinated European programme for which clear guidance is given on which specific control activities should be performed by the Member States.

According to the EU-coordinated programme 138 pesticides had to be analysed in 2009, 120 of which were to be analysed in food samples of plant origin while 32 pesticides were to be analysed in samples of animal origin. In addition, the European programme defined the 10 different food commodities to be analysed in 2009. A total number of 10,553 samples were analysed.

The analysis of the results of the 2009 EU-coordinated programme has shown that 1.2% of the 10,553 samples exceeded the MRL, while 37.4% of samples had measurable residues above the analytical reporting level but below or at the MRL. 61.4% of the samples were free of measurable pesticide residues.

Out of the 138 pesticides tested, measurable residues were found for 111 different substances.

The pesticide/crop combinations where residue values were measured most frequently were imazalil/bananas (49.5%), chlormequat/wheat (42.3%) and fenhexamid/table grapes (23.8%).

In order to analyse the change of the MRL exceedance rate over the time, the results of the 2009 monitoring year were compared with 2006, where the same food commodities of plant origin were analysed, but the number of pesticides to be controlled increased from 55 in 2006 to 120 in 2009.

A decrease in the overall MRL exceedance rate from 4.4% in 2006 to 1.2% in 2009 was observed. This finding can be partially ascribed to the new EU legislation on pesticide MRLs which entered into force in September 2008. The harmonisation has simplified the MRL system in Europe and therefore improved the clarity about which MRLs are applicable. Other factors have influenced the difference in the MRL exceedance rate between 2006 and 2009, e.g. the change in the pesticide authorisation status and use patterns, the improvement in the data reporting system and the efficient implementation of the general provisions of the European food law.

The comparison of the results obtained in 2006 and 2009 also revealed an increase of the percentage of samples free of measurable residues (53.9% in 2006 to 61.4% in 2009).

The highest percentage of samples exceeding the MRL was identified for table grapes (2.8%), followed by peppers (1.8%), aubergines (1.7%), peas (1.0%), wheat (0.8%), butter (0.6%), cauliflower (0.5%), bananas (0.4%) and chicken eggs (0.2%). No orange juice samples were found to exceed the legal limits. The percentage of samples exceeding the MRLs has decreased from 2006 to 2009 for all commodities, except for wheat. In 2009, table grapes had the highest percentage of samples with measurable pesticide residues below or at MRLs (70.6%), followed by 56.9% of the banana samples and 32.5% of the peppers. Compared to the results of the 2006 EU-coordinated control programme, where the same food commodities were analysed, the highest decrease of samples without detectable residues was found for orange juice (90% in 2006 to 75% in 2009), the highest increase was observed for peppers (55% in 2006 to 66% in 2009).

In the EU-coordinated programme residues exceeding the MRL were found for 47 different pesticides. The most frequent MRL exceedances were detected for residues of HCH alpha (0.26% of the samples) and dimethoate (0.22% of the samples). The highest percentages of MRL exceedances were found for dimethoate in aubergines, where the MRL was exceeded in 0.87% of all samples.

The official controls carried out at national level in the framework of the national monitoring programmes are complementary to the controls performed in the context of the EU-coordinated programme and are performed to ensure compliance with the provisions established in food legislation regarding the pesticide residues. Member States and EFTA countries are free to decide on the design of the national monitoring programmes for pesticide residues in food. The total number of samples taken in the context of the national programmes in 2009 was 67,978 . Compared with the previous year, this is a decrease of 3.1%.

In 2009, the majority of the samples taken are classified as surveillance samples (66,550 samples, 97.9% of the total number of samples). The total number of enforcement samples taken by all reporting countries was 1,428 (2.1% of the total number of samples).

The number of distinct pesticides sought in 2009 was 834. Countries made considerable progress in expanding their analytical capacities which is an important element in guaranteeing food safety. Approximately 300 different food commodities were analysed for pesticide residues by all reporting countries.

In total, residues of 338 different pesticides were found in measurable quantities in vegetables, 319 in fruit and nuts, while in cereals residues of 93 different pesticides were observed. As in previous years, the number of different pesticide residues found in 2009 in fruits, nuts and vegetables was higher than the number of pesticides found in cereals, which also reflects the diversity of crops included in these food categories and the larger number of plant protection products used in the fruit and vegetables category.

The majority of food of animal origin was free of detectable residues (99.7%). In total, 34 different pesticides were found in animal products; most of the pesticides found in product of animal origin were rather due to environmental contaminations with persistent pesticides that have been banned at EU level than actual uses of pesticides on feed crops.

97.4% of the surveillance samples analysed (all food categories) were below or at the legal MRLs. In 2.6% of the samples the legal limits were exceeded for one or more pesticides. The overall reported MRL exceedance rate (2.6%) is lower than in the previous year where 3.5% of the samples were found to exceed the MRLs.

The pesticide/crop combinations which were most frequently exceeding the MRLs were ethephon in figs, tetramethrin in wild fungi, dithiocarbamates in passion fruit, nicotine in wild fungi and amitraz in pears.

Regarding baby food, a general default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg is applicable for all pesticides, unless specific MRLs - lower than 0.01 mg/kg - are established under the specific EU legislation. Overall, 1,888 samples of baby food/infant formulae were analysed in 2009. Residues above the reporting level were found in 110 samples, while the MRL was exceeded in 15 samples (0.8%). 7 of the MRL exceedances concerned samples of infant formulae with residue levels of captan exceeding the legal limits. Other MRL exceedances in baby food/infant formulae were reported for pirimiphos-methyl, imazalil, chlorpropham, thiabendazole and diazinon.

At EU level, no specific MRLs for organic products are in place; thus, the MRLs established for conventionally produced products apply also to this food category. In 2009, a total of 3,090 samples of organic origin were taken by a total of 25 countries, which corresponds to 5% of all surveillance samples taken in the reporting countries. For fruit and nuts grown organically, a lower rate of MRL exceedances (0.4%) was found in comparison to conventionally grown fruit and nuts (2.7%), for vegetables the MRL exceedances of the samples were 0.5% and 3.4% respectively for organically and conventionally grown crops. The following substances were found in organic samples, even if their use was not allowed in organic production: chlormequat, fenbutatin oxide, MCPA and MCPB, mepiquat, methabenzthiazuron and propamocarb. Also residues of CS2 - which is an indicator for the presence of pesticides belonging to the group of the dithiocarbamates - were found. However, since some crops contain natural compounds which also release CS2 during the chemical analysis the results cannot prove beyond doubt that dithiocarbamate pesticides were used.

In 2009, multiple residues of two or more pesticides in the same sample were found in 25.1% of the analysed surveillance samples. Important commodities with high frequencies of multiple residues were citrus fruit (56.6%), table and wine grapes (55.5%) and strawberries (53.8%). 299 unprocessed surveillance samples were found to exceed two or more MRLs. The commodity with the highest number of samples with multiple MRL exceedances was peppers (46 out of 1704 samples exceeded the MRL for two or more pesticides).

The results of the EU-coordinated monitoring programme were used to perform dietary exposure assessments. In 2009, the results of the control activities were reported with a new reporting format which allowed improving the accuracy of the consumer exposure calculations in comparison to the previous year, in particular for the calculation of the long-term consumer exposure.

The chronic (long-term) exposure assessment was based on the residue findings for the food commodities which are the major constituents of the human diet. EFSA concluded that residues found on these food commodities do not raise health concerns if consumed over a long period.

The assessment of the acute (short-term) consumer exposure was performed for the ten food commodities which were analysed under the 2009 EU co-ordinated monitoring programme. The assessment was based on worst-case scenarios, supposing the consumption of a large portion of the food item under consideration containing the highest residue measured in the coordinated programme. In order to accommodate for a possible non-homogeneous distribution of residues in an analysed food lot an additional variability factor was introduced in the calculation. Assuming a coincidence of these events (high food consumption, high residue concentration and inhomogeneous residue distribution in a lot), out of 10,553 samples a potential consumer risk could not be excluded for a total of 77 samples concerning 32 pesticide/commodity combinations. Taking into account the frequency of the occurrence of the critical residues (in less than 0.1% of the samples tested for the given pesticide/crop combinations) and the frequency of extreme consumption events, the events leading to a potential risk were considered very unlikely. The highest potential exceedances of the toxicological reference value were calculated for carbofuran residues in peppers (14,275% of the ARfD), oxamyl residues in peppers (9,510% of the ARfD), monocrotophos residues in peppers (7,557% of the ARfD), methomyl/thiodicarb residues in peppers (1,889% of the ARfD) and dimethoate/omethoate residues in table grapes (1,342% of the ARfD).

For 11 of the 32 pesticide/commodity combinations for which a critical short-term intake situation could not be excluded, risk management actions have been taken in the meantime, e.g. withdrawal of pesticide authorisations and/or lowering of the MRLs.

Pesticide residues, food control, monitoring, Maximum Residue Levels, consumer risk assessment, Regulation (EC) No 396/2005
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