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Residue compliance rates remain high, annual pesticide report finds

The fourth annual report, published today, gives an overview of pesticide Substance used to kill or control pests, including disease-carrying organisms and undesirable insects, animals and plants. residues found in food in 2010 in the 27 EU Member States, as well as Iceland and Norway[1]. As part of this analysis, EFSA tested an innovative approach to dietary exposure For the purposes of risk assessment, measurement of the amount of a substance consumed by a person or animal in their diet that is intentionally added or unintentionally present (e.g. a nutrient, additive or pesticide). known as cumulative risk assessment A method of assessing risks to health or the environment posed by multiple substances such as chemicals.. In contrast to established techniques that evaluate pesticide residues individually, this approach considers the potential effects of combined exposure Concentration or amount of a particular substance that is taken in by an individual, population or ecosystem in a specific frequency over a certain amount of time. to a number of chemicals that have similar toxicological properties.

EFSA Pesticides Unit head Herman Fontier said: “This annual report on pesticide residues makes important recommendations for improved monitoring at national and EU level. It ensures risk managers have the most accurate and relevant information upon which to make decisions.”

Key findings

The national programmes found that 97.2% of samples contained residues within the European legal limit– known as the maximum residue level ( MRL The maximum amount of a pesticide residue allowed in foods or animal feeds, expressed as milligrams per kilogram.).  The lowest MRL exceedance rates were found on foods of animal origin – with 0.1% of samples above permissible limits. MRL exceedance rates of foods imported into the EU, Norway and Iceland were more than five times higher than those of foods originating in these nations - 7.9% compared to 1.5%. MRL values for organic food[2] commodities in the EU are identical to those for non-organic foods. Analysis of 3,571 organic food samples showed an MRL exceedance rate of 0.8%.

 

The results of the EU-coordinated programme[3] for 2010 showed that 98.4% of samples analysed were compliant with permissible limits. MRL exceedance rates have been broadly stable over the last four years – with the percentage of samples above the legal limits ranging from 2.3% in 2007 to 1.2% in 2009.  The 2010 report found the foods with the highest percentage of samples exceeding the MRL were oats (5.3%), lettuce (3.4%), strawberries (2.8%) and peaches (1.8%).

Dietary exposure

Based on the findings of the 2010 monitoring programmes, EFSA concluded there was no long-term risk to consumer health from the pesticide residues through their diets. In assessing short-term acute exposure A one-off or very short term exposure to a substance, usually less than 24 hours., the report found that a risk could not be excluded for 0.4% of samples – or 79 out of a total of 18,243. This conclusion is based on a worst-case scenario that assumed consumption of the largest portion of a food type that contains the highest residue measured of each pesticide.

 

In addition to the established dietary exposure evaluation, EFSA performed for the first time a cumulative risk assessment  A specialised field of applied science that involves reviewing scientific data and studies in order to evaluate risks associated with certain hazards. It involves four steps: hazard identification, hazard characterisation, exposure assessment and risk characterisation. as part of the 2010 report. The main aim of the pilot programme was to assess the need for improvements in the way Member States report monitoring data. EFSA highlighted the value of this trial cumulative risk assessment in paving the way for the better use of the approach in future reports. But it also recognised the need for additional data collection by national authorities and modifications to the methodology in order to reduce the significant uncertainties found in the results.

Mr Fontier said: “Cumulative risk assessment relies on a refined analysis and understanding of the possible types of combined toxicity The potential of a substance to cause harm to a living organism. of chemicals in food. It requires sophisticated methodologies capable of handling and combining huge amounts of data. This is why the pilot cumulative risk assessment presented in the latest report focuses on methodology rather than results, which are inconclusive as they contain a high degree of uncertainty Scientific concept used in risk assessment to describe all types of limitations in available knowledge at the time an assessment is conducted, with the agreed resources, that affect the probability of possible outcomes to the assessment..”

EFSA has been working intensively on the development of these methodologies and on data collection over the last five years. This undertaking, which is also central to the Authority’s work on chemical mixtures in foods, is ongoing and will result in a wider coverage of the combined effects of pesticides residues in future reports.

The 2010 report recommends a series of measures to further improve future monitoring programmes and the enforcement of pesticide residue legislation in Europe.

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