The report provides an overview of pesticide residues in food in the European Union during 2008 and assesses the exposure of European consumers to those residues through their diets. The report shows 96.5% of the samples analyzed comply with the maximum residue levels (M.R.L.s.) of pesticides permitted for food products in the E.U.
According to this study, 3.5% of all analyzed samples exceeded the legal Maximum Residue Levels.; in 2007, 4.2% of pesticides exceeded the legal M.R.L. limits. More than 70,000 samples of nearly 200 different types of food were analyzed for pesticide residues. The monitoring methods used by E.U. member states allow for up to 862 different pesticides to be detected.
More pesticide residues exceeding the M.R.L.s were found in food imported from countries outside the European Union (7.6 %) than in samples originating in the E.U. (2.4%). However, the percentage of samples free of pesticide residues has increased in comparison with previous years, according to the results from the E.U.-coordinated pesticides program, which was designed to collect comparative data for all member states. In 2008 no pesticide residues were detected in 62.1% of the samples tested, whereas from 2005 to 2007, 52.7% to 58% of samples did not contain measurable pesticide residues.
Concerning organic products, M.R.Ls were exceeded in 0.9% of the samples analyzed. E.U. legislation allows only a very limited number of pesticides to be used in organic food production. There are no specific M.R.L.s for organic products; the same M.R.L.s apply as those for conventional products.
E.F.S.A.’s Pesticide Risk Assessment Peer Review (PRAPeR) Unit, which prepared the report, specifies that the presence of pesticides in foods, and in many cases even surpassing an M.R.L., does not necessarily imply a food-safety concern. To assess consumer risk, E.F.S.A. estimated chronic (long-term) exposure to pesticides from major foods that make up the diet of Europeans and acute (short-term) exposure for nine types of crops, which were monitored in 2008 as part of the E.U.-coordinated program. In both cases, according to E.F.S.A., the agency followed a cautious approach, using conservative assumptions to estimate exposure to pesticides.
For the assessment of long-term exposure, E.F.S.A. concluded that none of the evaluated pesticides raised health concerns. For the assessment of the acute exposure, E.F.S.A. assumed that people would eat large portions of foods containing the highest recorded residue levels. Under this worst-case scenario, E.F.S.A. said that for 35 pesticide/commodity combinations a potential risk could occur but only in rare cases.