The 2013 European Union report on pesticide residues in food


European Food Safety Authority
EFSA Journal
EFSA Journal 2015;13(3):4038 [169 pp.].

EFSA wishes to thank Herman Fontier (Belgium 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
27 February 2015
12 March 2015
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Parma Italy
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The results of the control activities related to pesticide residues in food carried out in 2013 in the EU Member States, Norway and Iceland (hereafter referred to as reporting countries) are summarised in this report. In total, 80 967 samples of a wide variety of unprocessed raw agricultural commodities and processed food products were analysed for residues of 685 distinct pesticides. A substantial number of samples (8 270) were taken for products from third countries, which are subject to increased import controls under Regulation (EC) No 669/2009. In the framework of the EU-coordinated monitoring programme, which aims to provide statistically representative results for the EU, 11 582 samples of 12 different food commodities were analysed for 209 distinct pesticides. Overall, 97.4 % of the tested food samples fell within the legal limits and 54.6 % of the samples contained no quantifiable residues at all. In general, a higher prevalence of residues exceeding the Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) was observed for products imported from third countries (5.7 % for imported products versus 1.4 % for products produced in reporting countries). The results of the dietary exposure estimations support the conclusion that, in the light of current knowledge, the presence of residues found in the food products covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programmes was unlikely to have a long-term effect on the health of consumers. The probability of being exposed to pesticide residues in the food products covered by the EU-coordinated programme exceeding the toxicological threshold for short-term exposure that may lead to negative health outcomes was low.


This report provides an overview of the official control activities performed by European Union (EU) Member States, Iceland and Norway in order to ensure compliance of food with the legal limits for pesticide residues. It summarises the results provided by the reporting countries and identifies areas of concern regarding sample compliance with the legal limits; EFSA also assessed the actual consumer exposure to pesticide residues and performed an analysis of the chronic and acute dietary risks for European consumers. Since the results of pesticide residue analysis are available only after most of the products have been already consumed, this report is not a tool for informing the public on imminent risks related to food. However, the comprehensive analysis of the results of all reporting countries provides risk managers with a scientifically sound basis for taking appropriate risk management actions for future monitoring programmes, in particular decisions about which pesticides and food products should be targeted in risk-based national monitoring programmes or other necessary risk management measures, such as the need to review or modify existing legal limits.

In 2013, the reporting countries analysed 80 967 samples for a total of 685 different pesticides. On average, samples were analysed for 200 pesticides. The majority of samples (55 253 samples, 68.2 %) originated from the EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries; 22 400 samples (27.7 %) concerned products imported from third countries. For 3 314 samples (4.1 %) the origin of the products was not reported.

Overall, 97.4 % of the samples analysed fell within the legal limits; 54.6 % of the samples tested were free of detectable residues while 42.8 % of the samples analysed contained measurable residues not exceeding the permitted residue concentrations. 2.6 % of all the samples exceeded the Maximum Residue Levels (MRL) (2 116 samples); 1.5 % of the samples clearly exceeded the legal limits, taking into account the measurement uncertainty.

Among the samples from EU and EEA countries, 57.6 % were free of measurable residues; 41.0 % contained residues above the limit of quantification (LOQ) but within the legal limits. A total of 1.4 % of the samples contained residues that exceeded the permitted concentrations. Administrative or legal actions were imposed on 0.7 % of the samples that clearly exceeded the legal limit (non-compliant samples). Samples from third countries were found to have a higher MRL exceedance rate (5.7 %) and non-compliance rate (3.4 %) than those from the EU and EEA countries. The percentage of samples from third countries free of detectable residues amounted to 46.2 % while 48.1 % of the samples contained residues within the permitted limits. Compared to 2012 the MRL exceedance rate for imported food products declined (2012: 7.5 %).

In unprocessed products MRL exceedances were detected in 2.8 % of the samples; 46.1 % of the samples contained measurable residues but within the legal limits and 51.1 % of the unprocessed products were free of detectable residues. Processed products in general had a lower prevalence of pesticide residues and MRL exceedances (27 % of all processed products contained detectable residues within the legal limit, 1.2 % MRL exceedance rate).

Residues of more than one pesticide (multiple residues) were found in 27.3 % of the samples (22 126 samples).

Among the 2 788 individual determinations that exceeded the legal limit, 878 determinations were reported for pesticides not approved in the EU. In most cases these MRL exceedances for non-approved pesticides were related to imported products (659 cases) while for products produced in the EU and EEA countries non-approved pesticides were less frequent (186 results).

In total, 8 270 samples of products in focus for import controls as specified in Regulation (EC) No 669/2009 were analysed. In this subset of samples, which is targeted towards products with a high non-compliance rate observed in the past, 557 samples (6.7 %) exceeded the legal limit for one or several pesticides.

In total, 1 597 samples of baby food were analysed. In 92.7 % of the samples no detectable residues were found, whereas in 116 samples (7.3 %) residues were above the LOQ. For 11 samples (0.7 % of the analysed baby food samples) the reporting countries noted MRL exceedances.

In 15.5 % of samples of organic products (717 of the 4 620 samples analysed) pesticide residues were detected within the legal limits whereas 0.8 % of the samples exceeded the MRL. In these samples, 134 distinct pesticides were identified. In most cases the detected residues were related to pesticides that are permitted for organic farming, persistent environmental pollutants or residues of substances that are not necessarily related to the use of pesticides but which may come from natural sources.

The majority of samples of animal products (8 257 samples) were free of measurable residues (88 %, 7 265 samples. The most frequently detected pesticides were persistent environmental pollutants, or compounds resulting from sources other than pesticide use.

In the framework of the 2013 EU-coordinated programme under Regulation (EC) No 788/2012, reporting countries were requested to analyse 12 different food products (apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, peaches (including nectarines), rye or oats, strawberries, tomatoes, cow’s milk, swine meat and wine). The programme covered a total of 209 pesticides, 191 in food of plant origin and 52 in food of animal origin.

In total, 11 582 samples were analysed in the framework of the EU-coordinated monitoring programme. Overall, 0.9 % of the samples exceeded the MRL (113 samples); 0.5 % 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 %). In 52.8 % 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 % of the samples), followed by lettuce (2.3 %), oats (1.3 %), peaches (1.1 %) and apples (1.0 %). The MRL exceedance rate was below 1 % for the remaining products – head cabbage (0.9 %), tomatoes (0.9 %) leek (0.5 %) and wine (0.1 %).

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 %), peaches (53 %), apples (46 %) and lettuce (36 %). Lower occurrence levels were recorded for oats (28 %), tomatoes (27 %), wine (23 %), rye (16 %), leek (14 %) and head cabbage (4.8 %). The presence of multiple pesticide residues was low in animal products (3.5 % for milk and 0.5 % for swine meat).

These food products except wine were also analysed in 2010; a comparison of the detection rates and the MRL exceedance rates was performed for 166 pesticides which were also analysed in 2010. Overall, the MRL exceedance rate in 2013 was lower or equal in all products analysed. The pesticide patterns, the detection rates and the MRL exceedance rates detected in 2010 and 2013 in the different food products were comparable. However, EFSA noted a lower number of MRL exceedances related to non-approved pesticides in 2013 in apples, head cabbage, peaches and strawberries. In apples, lettuce and tomatoes some pesticides were found in exceedance of the MRL that were not present or were within the legal limits in 2010.

Considering the frequency of pesticide residues detected in food commonly consumed, a wide range of European consumers are expected to be exposed to these substances via food. To quantify the expected exposure and the related risk, EFSA performed short-term and long-term dietary risk assessments for the pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated programme (EUCP). The methodology used is a screening method which is likely to overestimate the actual exposure because it is based on conservative model assumptions.

The short-term (acute) exposure was calculated for the 12 food products covered by the 2013 EUCP. For the majority of the pesticides assessed, the short-term exposure was found to be negligible or within a range that is unlikely to pose a consumer health concern. The exposure exceeded the toxicological reference value (ARfD) for 218 samples of the total of 18 747 samples taken into account for the short-term dietary exposure assessment (1.16 %), assuming that the product was consumed in high amounts without washing or any processing which would reduce the residues (e.g. peeling).

Most of the cases exceeding the ARfD were due to chlorpyrifos residues (145 determinations), mainly in apples and peaches. The high number of exceedances of the ARfD is related to the fact that the toxicological reference value for chlorpyrifos was recently lowered, which triggers the need to re-evaluate the existing MRLs for chlorpyrifos. Excluding the results for chlorpyrifos, 73 samples contained residues exceeding the ARfD.

Given this conservatism, real exposure was expected to be significantly lower. Based on the results of the 2013 EUCP, EFSA concluded that the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residues exceeding concentrations that may lead to negative health outcomes was low.

EFSA also calculated chronic or long-term exposure, predicting lifetime exposure. For all except one pesticide long-term exposure was negligible or within the toxicologically acceptable dose (below the Acceptable Daily Intake – ADI). Thus, residues of these pesticides, according to the current scientific knowledge, are not likely to pose a chronic health risk. Dichlorvos was the only pesticide where the calculated long-term dietary exposure slightly exceeded the toxicological threshold (109 % of the ADI). Considering that dichlorvos is no longer approved in the EU, the risk assessment approach used for screening of potential long-term risks was found to be overly conservative. In an alternative calculation scenario, using less conservative assumptions, the exposure dropped below 1 % of the ADI. Overall, EFSA concluded that dietary exposure to the pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme of 2013, for which toxicological data are available, was not likely to pose a long-term health risk.

EFSA derived a number of recommendations in order to improve the efficiency of the EU-coordinated and national programmes, increase the quality of the data, revise existing MRLs or the pesticide related legislation and reduce uncertainties in the dietary exposure and risk assessments performed by EFSA.

pesticide residues, food control, monitoring, maximum residue levels, consumer risk assessment, Regulation (EC) No 396/2005
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