Maximum residue levels

Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are the upper legal levels of a concentration for pesticide residues in or on food or feed based on good agricultural practices and to ensure the lowest possible consumer exposure. 

Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 establishes the MRLs of pesticides permitted in products of plant or animal origin intended for human or animal consumption. MRLs are derived after a comprehensive assessment of the

  • properties of the active substance;
  • residue levels resulting from the good agricultural practices defined for the treated crops.

An indispensable precondition for setting MRLs is a risk assessment demonstrating consumer safety (consumer intake not exceeding the toxicological reference values).

The Regulation, fully applicable since September 2008, repeals the previous fragmentary legislation and replaces all national MRLs with harmonised EU MRLs for all foodstuffs. Prior to this, each Member State applied its own MRLs for active substances which were not yet covered by EU legislation. In the framework of the single market the lack of harmonisation of food standards created trade disruption and legal uncertainties.

EFSA’s Pesticides Unit is responsible for the risk assessment of MRLs in accordance with the legislation. The Unit has provided advice to the European Commission in the framework of setting temporary European MRLs in 2007, the first step to harmonise the national MRLs and adopted reasoned opinions on MRLs for numerous applications and at specific requests of the Commission regarding the safety of MRLs for active substances. Furthermore, the Pesticides Unit in collaboration with Member States is reviewing the scientific basis of existing MRLs and performs consumer risk assessments to ensure that MRLs established in the past are compliant with the data requirements and are safe for consumers. 

Annual Report on Pesticide Residues

The Member States have to carry out official controls on pesticide residues in order to enforce compliance with Maximum Residue Levels. The results of the controls have to be reported to the Commission, other Member States and EFSA.

Every year, EFSA publishes an Annual Report on Pesticide Residues in the EU based on the monitoring information on pesticide residues in food received from 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries Iceland and Norway. The EU MRL monitoring programmes are one of the most comprehensive food survey programmes worldwide, covering more than 60.000 food samples every year which are analysed for up to approximately 800 different pesticides. Member States report more than 15 million determinations of pesticide residues on a yearly basis. The report also assesses the exposure of European consumers to pesticide residues through their diets.