The 2010 European Union Report on Pesticide Residues in Food


European Food Safety Authority
EFSA Journal
EFSA Journal 2013;11(3):3130 [808 pp.].

EFSA wishes to thank EFSA’s staff members Daniela Brocca, Paula Medina-Pastor, Ileana Miron, Hermine Reich and Giuseppe Triacchini for the preparation of this scientific output. Furthermore, EFSA wishes to thank Erica Muller (Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority) and Caroline van der Schoor (Dutch Board for the Authorisation of Plant Protection Products and Biocides) for their independent scientific review of the report. In addition, 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.

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28 February 2013
12 March 2013
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Parma Italy
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This report presents the results of the control of pesticide residues in food commodities sampled during the calendar year 2010 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. EFSA presents for the first time the results of a pilot cumulative risk assessment (CRA) to multiple chemical residues. Finally, the report provides some recommendations aimed at the improvement of the future monitoring programmes and the enforcement of the European pesticide residue legislation. In total, more than 77,000 samples of approximately 500 different types of food (raw or processed) were analysed for pesticide residues by national competent authorities. Considering the results concerning both the national and the EU-coordinated programmes, the total number of analytical determinations reported among all the countries amounted to more than 14 million. The results of the EU-coordinated programme for 2010 showed that 1.6% of total samples analysed exceeded the European legal limits (MRLs). EFSA concluded that the long-term exposure of consumers did not raise health concerns. In assessing the short-term exposure, the pesticide monitoring results revealed that a risk could not be excluded for 79 samples concerning 30 different pesticides if the pertinent food was consumed in high amounts. The results of the CRA are considered indicative as the work on establishing which groups of pesticides are expected to share the same toxicological effects is not yet complete and the final methodological approach needs to be further elaborated. The outcome of the pilot CRA demonstrated that the exposure calculations are affected by significant uncertainties, mainly related to the analytical results reported as “non-detected”. The methodology used in this pilot exercise will be further revised to reduce the uncertainties of the exposure assessment.


This report presents the results of the control of pesticide residues in food commodities sampled during the calendar year 2010 in the 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway) in order to ensure compliance of food with the European standards with regard to the permissible maximum legal limits for pesticide residues. In addition, the report presents the outcome of the consumer risk assessment of pesticide residues.

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

Food compliance with Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs)

The food commodities to be analysed in the framework of the 2010 EU-coordinated control programme were apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, milk, peaches, pears, rye or oats, strawberries, swine meat and tomatoes. This programme defined 157 pesticides to be analysed in food of plant origin (38 of them to be analysed on a voluntary basis) and 34 pesticides in food of animal origin (six of them to be analysed on a voluntary basis), for a total of 178 distinct pesticides. A total number of 12,168 samples were analysed in 2010.

The analysis of the results of the 2010 EU-coordinated programme shows that 197 (1.6%) of the 12,168 samples exceeded the MRL, while 5,802 (47.7%) of the samples had measurable residues above the reporting level but below or at the MRL. 6,169 of the samples (50.7%) were free from measurable pesticide residues.

According to the results of the last four EU-coordinated programmes (2007 to 2010), the percentage of samples exceeding the MRLs was rather stable, with only small variations; the % of samples exceeding the legal limits in this reference period ranged from 1.2% to 2.3%.

In 2010, the MRL exceedance rates among the reporting countries ranged from 0.0% to 4.9% of the samples analysed. The highest percentage of samples exceeding the MRL was identified for oats (5.3%), followed by lettuce (3.4%), strawberries (2.8%), peaches (1.8%), apples (1.3%), pears (1.3%), tomatoes (1.2%), leek (1.0%), head cabbage (0.9%) and rye (0.2%). MRL exceedances were not reported for milk and swine meat samples. Peaches had the highest percentage of samples with measurable pesticide residues above the LOQ (73%), followed by 68% of the apple samples and 68% of the strawberries. Comparing the results of the 2007 and 2010 EU-coordinated control programmes (where the same commodities of plant origin – except pears – were tested), it was noted that the only commodity for which the percentage of samples without detectable residues increased was strawberries (from 31.1% in 2007 to 32.1% in 2010); the highest decrease in the percentage of detectable residues was observed for oats (79.7% in 2007 to 45.5% in 2010). The percentage of samples exceeding the MRLs has increased from 2007 to 2010 for the following crops: leek, lettuce, oats, and tomatoes.

The total number of samples taken in the context of the 2010 national programmes was 77,075. Compared with the previous year, this is an increase of 13.4%. In 2010, the majority of the samples taken were classified as surveillance samples (72,813 samples, 94.5% of the total number of samples). The total number of enforcement samples taken by all reporting countries was 4,262 (5.5% of the total number of samples). The number of pesticides analysed for in 2010 was 982 (excluding metabolites). In 2010, 529 different food commodities (including processed and unprocessed food samples) were surveyed. The majority of total samples taken in 2010 were produced in one of the reporting countries (73%), while 23% of the samples originated from third countries.

In total, residues of 328 distinct pesticides were found in measurable quantities in vegetables, 301 in fruit and nuts, while in cereals residues of 88 different pesticides were observed (surveillance samples only).

97.2% of the analysed surveillance samples were below or at the legal MRLs. In 2.8% of the samples, the legal limits were exceeded for one or more pesticides. MRLs were more often exceeded for samples from third countries (7.9% of the surveillance samples) than for samples from the EU and EFTA countries (1.5% of the surveillance samples). In terms of commodity groups, most of the MRL exceedances (11.1%) were found in unprocessed surveillance samples of legume vegetables (e.g. beans with pods), spices (8.5%) and nuts (8.3%). High MRL exceedance rates were also observed in table and wine grapes, and leafy vegetables (e.g. lettuce) and fresh herbs.

With regard to multiple residues in the same sample, residues of two or more pesticides were found in 19,382 samples, corresponding to 26.6% of the surveillance samples analysed. Important commodities for human consumption with high frequencies of multiple residues were liver (95.7% of 23 liver samples), citrus fruits (62.8% of 4,363 citrus fruit samples) and strawberries (60.5% of 2,479 strawberries samples).

The majority of food of animal origin was free of detectable residues (87.3% of samples were reported below the quantification limits). In total, 43 different pesticides were found in animal products; the most frequently found pesticides were DDT and HCH, which were detected in 13.4% and 11.6% of the samples analysed for these pesticides, respectively. These substances are considered as persistent organic pollutants which have a tendency to bio accumulate in fat matrices. In the EU the use of these pesticides is banned.

In 2010, a total of 1,828 surveillance samples of baby food were reported by 28 countries. Residues above the reporting level were found in 154 samples (8.4%), while the MRL was exceeded in 36 samples (2.0%).

3,571 samples of organic origin were taken in 2010 by a total of 28 countries, which corresponds to 4.9% of all surveillance samples taken overall in the reporting countries. For fruit and nuts, a lower rate of MRL exceedances (0.9%) was found in comparison to conventionally grown fruit and nuts (2.9%). For vegetables, the exceedance rates of the surveillance samples were 1.0% and 3.8% respectively for organic and conventionally grown products. Overall, the MRL exceedance rate for organic food was 0.8%. In total, 131 different pesticides were found in organic products in measurable concentrations; of those, 26 pesticides were found in at least five samples. It is noted that 25 out of these 26 substances are not allowed in organic farming.

Dietray exposure assessment

The results of the EU-coordinated monitoring programme were used also to assess the consumer dietary exposure to pesticide residues.

The acute (short-term) consumer exposure assessment was performed for the 134 pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme that were considered relevant for acute risk assessment. The assessment focussed on the 12 target food commodities of the 2010 monitoring programme. For 20 of these pesticides no residues were detected in quantifiable concentrations in any of the samples taken, i.e.: aldrin and dieldrin, benfuracarb, bromuconazole, cadusafos, carbosulfan, chlordane, chlorbenzilate, dinocap, fipronil, fosthiazate, metconazole, methoxychlor, parathion, phenthoate, phoxim, prothioconazole, pyrazophos, resmethrin, tecnazene and triticonazole. Thus, for these substances the dietary exposure resulting from the food commodities covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme was negligible.

Considering the remaining pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated programme, a potential acute risk could not be excluded for 79 samples (out of the 18,243 samples considered) concerning 30 different pesticides. However, for two pesticides included in the EU-coordinated programme the residue definition contains two or more compounds with different toxicological properties. Thus, for these substances two scenarios were calculated, an optimistic scenario, assuming the residue concentrations measured refer to the less toxic substance and a pessimistic scenario, which is considered as the less likely, using the ARfD for the more toxic substance. Under the pessimistic scenario, the number of samples which exceeded the respective toxicological reference value increased from 79 to 200. The commodities for which no risk was identified were milk, oats, rye and swine meat. The commodities with the most frequent exceedance of the ARfD were apples, lettuce and tomatoes (23, 22 and 21 samples, respectively) in the optimistic scenario; also in the pessimistic scenario these commodities exceeded most frequently the toxicological threshold (45, 87 and 29 samples, respectively). Of the samples posing a potential acute consumer risk none concerned organically produced food.

The long-term (chronic) exposure assessment was performed for 171 of the 178 substances covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme and for which toxicological reference values were available, and it was based on the residue findings for the 28 most prominent food commodities in the human diet. For none of the pesticides included in the 2010 EU-coordinated control programme the exposure exceeded the toxicologically acceptable limits. Based on the current scientific knowledge, it is therefore concluded that the food commodities covered by the EU monitoring programme did not pose a long-term consumer health risk.

For the first time in the context of preparing this report, EFSA performed an indicative cumulative risk assessment taking into account the results of the 2010 monitoring programme with the purpose of exploring possible deficiencies in the monitoring data (e.g. if the level of detail of the data reported was sufficient) and other limitations, which may impede the practical implementation of the cumulative risk assessment methodologies currently under development. Since the work on the establishment of common assessment groups (i.e. pesticides which are expected to share the same toxicological effects) and the assessment methodology is not yet completed the calculations are based on simplistic assumptions which are likely to overestimate the exposure significantly. Noting that the purpose of the exercise is to test the suitability of the monitoring data for this type of assessment, the results of the exposure assessments should be regarded as indicative only.

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