Over 97% of samples tested in the latest Europe-wide monitoring programme of pesticides in food contain residue levels that fall within permissible limits, says the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). These results are part of the fifth annual report on pesticide residues in food in 27 EU Member States, Norway and Iceland. The report by EFSA’s Pesticide Unit is based on the analysis of more than 79,000 food samples carried out by national food authorities in 2011.
Jose Tarazona, Head of EFSA’s Pesticides Unit, said: “The European Union report on pesticide residues in food shows that adherence rates remain very high - above 97% for the third year in a row. EFSA’s role in this programme is a key part of its ongoing work in pesticides to safeguard the health of humans, animals and the environment. It is also important to recognise the significant contribution made by national authorities that collect and analyse tens of thousands of food samples every year.”
As part of this comprehensive monitoring exercise, each of the 29 reporting countries conducts two control programmes: a national programme designed by each country and an EU-coordinated programme requiring all national bodies to carry out consistent monitoring activities. For both programmes in 2011, a record total of 79,035 samples of 647 different types of food were tested for the presence of nearly 900 pesticides. The residue analysis focussed on both pesticides approved for use in the EU and those not used in the region.
The national programmes found that 97.5% of the food samples analysed contained pesticide residues that were within EU legal limits – known as maximum residue levels (MRLs). Organic foods showed a lower MRL exceedance rate compared to non-organic products (0.5% versus 2.6%). The non-compliance rate of food imported into the EU, Norway and Iceland was four times higher than foods originating in these nations (3.7% compared to 0.9%).
The results of the EU coordinated programme showed that 98.1% of the samples analysed contained residue levels within permissible limits and that 53.4% of samples contained no measurable residues at all. The foods with the highest MRL exceedance rates were spinach (6.5%), beans with pods (4.1%), oranges (2.5%), cucumbers (2.1%) and rice (2%). The foods with the lowest MRL exceedance rates were wheat flour (0.3%) and potatoes (0.6%).
Based on the findings of the 2011 monitoring programmes, EFSA concluded there was no long-term risk to consumer health through their diets from 99% of the 171 pesticides assessed. The report noted that, based on a worst-case scenario, a risk to consumer health could not be excluded for two pesticides. Both substances have been prohibited in the EU since 1979 but continue to be present in the food chain because of their persistence in the environment. The results of the short-term dietary exposure assessment indicated a potential consumer health concern for a number of samples if these products were consumed in large amounts. However, EFSA stressed that these findings incorporate a high safety margin by over-estimating human exposure to pesticide residues.
Following on from last year’s pilot exercise, EFSA again carried out an indicative acute risk assessment that considers the potential effects of combined exposure to multiple residues present on individual food samples. The methodology used by EFSA classifies pesticides into cumulative assessment groups based on their similar toxicological properties. Focusing on pears, the report found that two samples out of 1,364 (0.15%) contained multiple residues which resulted in a combined exposure above the acceptable level.