The 2012 European Union Report on pesticide residues in food


European Food Safety Authority
EFSA Journal
EFSA Journal 2014;12(12):3942 [156 pp.].

EFSA wishes to thank Herman Fontier (Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment) for his independent scientific review of this report.

Scientific Report of EFSA
On request from
Question Number
5 December 2014
11 December 2014
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Parma Italy
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The report summarises the results of the control activities related to pesticide residues in food carried out in 2012 in the EU Member States, Norway and Iceland (hereafter referred to as reporting countries). A total of 78,390 samples of more than 750 food products were analysed for pesticide residues. A substantial number of samples from third countries (6,472 samples) were taken for products subject to increased import controls under Regulation (EC) No 669/2009. In the framework of the EU-coordinated monitoring programme which is aimed at providing statistically representative results for the EU, 10,235 samples of 12 different food commodities were analysed for 205 different pesticides. Overall, 98.3 % of the tested food samples were compliant with the legal limits; 54.9 % of the samples contained no quantifiable residues at all. In general, a higher prevalence of residues exceeding the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) was observed for products imported from third countries (7.5 % for imported products versus 1.4 % for products produced in one of the reporting countries). On the basis of the dietary exposure assessment performed for the pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme EFSA concluded that according to the current scientific knowledge, the presence of residues found in food in 2012 was unlikely to have a long-term effect on the health of consumers. In 280 cases of the total of 1,765,663 determinations reported for food products covered by the EU-coordinated programme the residues occurred in concentrations where a potential short-term consumer health outcome could not be excluded if the products were consumed in high quantities.


This report summarises the results of the control activities related to pesticide residues in food carried out in 2012 in 27 Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway). On the basis of the pesticide monitoring results reported by Member States, EFSA calculated the dietary exposure to pesticides via food and the associated risks. EFSA also derived a number recommendations aimed at improving the enforcement of the European pesticide residue legislation.

Altogether, in 2012 more than 78,390 samples of more than 750 different food products were tested for approximately 800 different pesticides.

The analysis of the results of the 2012 EU-coordinated programme, which requested the control of 12 different food products for 205 different pesticides, has shown that 0.9 % of the samples numerically exceeded the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) (92 out of the 10,235 samples); approximately half of them (0.5 % of the samples) were found to be non-compliant with the legal limits when the measurement uncertainty was taken into account. Measurable residues within the legally permitted levels were found in 39 % of the samples (3,992 samples). In 59.9 % of the samples (6,771 samples), no residues were detected (residues below the limit of quantification). Overall, the most frequently detected pesticides ranked according to the absolute number of detections were imazalil (629 detections), followed by thiabendazole (581 detections), chlorpyrifos (469 detections) and azoxystrobin (466 detections).

The food products assessed under the EU-coordinated programme with the highest MRL exceedance rate were broccoli (2.8 % of the samples exceeding the MRL), cauliflower (2.2 % MRL exceedances), table grapes (1.8 %), peppers (1.4 %), aubergines (1.0 %), bananas (0.7 %%) and wheat (0.7 %). For peas without pods and olive oil 0.1 % of the samples exceeded the legal limits. No MRL exceedances were identified in orange juice, butter and chicken eggs. Multiple pesticide residues were found most frequently in bananas (61.2 % of the samples analysed, followed by table grapes (59.6 % of the samples analysed) and sweet peppers (21.5 %).

The pesticide/product combinations for which residue concentrations were quantified above the reporting level most frequently in the EU-coordinated programme were thiabendazole/bananas (53.5 %), imazalil/bananas (48.6 %), chlormequat/wheat (39.6 %) and fenhexamid/table grapes (26.6 %). High detection frequencies were also reported for dithiocarbamates in broccoli (57.1 %) and in cauliflower (42.3 %), but these findings are related to naturally occurring substances present in brassica vegetables and are not necessarily linked to the use of dithiocarbamates pesticides. The highest percentages of MRL exceedances were found for dithiocarbamates in broccoli and cauliflower (3.3 % and 1.1 %, respectively), followed by residues of fluazifop-P-butyl (1.1 %), ethephon and folpet in table grapes (1.0 % and 0.8 %, respectively) dimethoate in cauliflower (0.8 %). No notable variations in the frequency of MRL exceedances and detection rates were found compared with 2009 where the same food products were analysed under the EU-coordinated programme.

In 2012, in total 78,390 samples were taken in the context of the national programmes. Compared to the previous monitoring year, the number of samples analysed in 2012 represented a slight decrease by 0.8 %. Of the total, 70,870 samples were surveillance samples while the remaining ones were classified as enforcement samples, thus targeting products which are expected to be non-compliant with the legal limits.

Of all samples analysed, 97.1 % were at or below the MRL; in 2.9 % of the samples, the legal limits were numerically exceeded for one or more pesticides (2,308 samples). For 1.7 % of the samples administrative or legal actions were taken be the national competent authorities against the responsible food business operators since the residue concentrations clearly exceeded the legal limits taking into account the measurement uncertainty. Overall, 54.9 % of the samples were free of detectable residues; in 26.1 % of the samples two or more pesticides were present simultaneously.

Samples originating from third countries were found to have a significantly higher MRL exceedance rate compared to food produced in the EU and EEA countries (7.5 % of the samples produced in third countries exceeded the legal limit compared to 1.4 % of the surveillance samples with EU and EEA provenance). Among the third country products, the highest MRL exceedance rates were identified for food originating from Malaysia (38.2 % of 102 samples analysed), Laos (34.6 % of 26 samples), Cambodia (26.5 % of 68 samples), Vietnam (24.6 % of 179 samples), Kenya (20.6 % of 286 samples), India (19.8 % of 698 samples) and China (18.7 % of 1788 samples). The products that most frequently exceeded the legal limit were basil (44.3 % of the samples analysed), okra (27.0 %), grapefruit (17.9 %) and celery leaves (17.3 %). All these products were in focus for specific import controls under Regulation (EC) No 669/2009. Under this regulation Member States had to perform an increased level of official controls before food products were allowed to be imported to the EU. Overall, 9.8 % of the samples taken under this programme exceeded the legal limits and were therefore rejected at the border.

In total 1,659 samples of baby food were analysed in 2012. Measurable residues were found in 139 samples (7.8 %). The MRLs for baby food were exceeded in 10 samples (0.6 % of the samples). Thus, compared to other food products, the frequency of residues detection and MRL exceedances in baby food was significantly lower.

Organically produced food contained less frequently residues in concentrations exceeding the legal limits, compared to products produced conventionally: among the 4,576 organically produced food products, the MRLs were exceeded in 0.8 % of the samples, while in non-organic products the MRL exceedance rate was 3.1 %. In 85.1 % of the organic products no detectable residues were found; in non-organic samples this percentage is significantly lower (53.1 %).

The majority of samples of food of animal origin were free of detectable pesticide residues (79.3 %); MRL exceedances were noted in 0.5 % of the samples. The detected residues were mainly linked to compounds that were used as pesticides in the past but are still present in the environment due to their persistence and the accumulation in the food chain.

Based on the results of the dietary risk assessment, EFSA concluded that the pesticide residue concentrations measured in the samples analysed in 2012 analysis were not likely to pose a long-term dietary risk for European consumers. The risk assessment that focussed on the short-term exposure revealed that in 280 cases negative health outcomes could not be fully excluded if the products containing the highest residue concentrations measured in the 2012 monitoring programmes were consumed in high quantities.

In 2012 EFSA investigated whether the occurrence of multiple residues present on the 12 food products covered by the EU-coordinated programme was likely to pose a consumer health risk, focussing on pesticides which share a common mechanism of toxicological action and which need to be considered for the cumulative risk assessment. Overall, it was concluded that the presence of pesticides belonging to the same cumulative assessment groups did not lead to a significant number of short-term dietary intake alerts.

Based on the detailed analysis of the monitoring results, EFSA derived a number of recommendations which aimed at improving the clarity and efficiency of the EU-coordinated and national monitoring programmes run by the official food safety authorities. The information on MRL violations identified in 2012 should be taken into account for planning future control programmes; in particular the findings on food products, pesticides and origin of products with previously high prevalence of MRL exceedance should be used to efficiently target future control activities. Finally, some proposals were made which focus on data that would allow improving the dietary risk assessment.

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