Food Law News - EU - 2001

Commission Press Release (IP/01/1133), 27 July 2001

CONTAMINANTS - Commission Publishes Results of Pesticide Monitoring Programme 1999

The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission has published the results of the 1999 pesticide residue monitoring programme. The report highlights the results of the analysis of pesticide residues in 40,000 samples of fruits, vegetables and cereals. Each test is capable of detecting up to 100 or more pesticides, indicating that an estimated 4 million individual determinations were carried out. The results on these tests provide conflicting messages. The good news is that 64% of the samples contained no detectable pesticide residues and that in a further 32% the levels found were below the relevant MRLs (maximum residue limits). This, however, must be contrasted with the remaining 4% of samples where MRLs were exceeded a significant increase on previous levels.

"The Commission takes comfort in the very high level of test results which point to no detectable pesticide levels or levels below the permitted maximum residue levels (MRLs). But, the levels in excess of permitted MRLs found in 4.3% of samples points to the scope for further improvement" said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne on the report. "Exceeding the MRLs by any amount is too much - even when it does not necessarily indicate a health risk. Foodstuffs must comply with the MRLs that are laid down and producers must respect the statutory limits. The Commission and Member States must continue to work together to ensure that manufacturers and users of plant protection products take the necessary precautions to ensure that pesticides are safely used."

The results come from national monitoring programmes undertaken by the Member States authorities and from a EU-wide programme co-ordinated by the European Commission. The pesticide levels found in samples that exceeded th maximum limits fall within a range that would not cause harm if eaten. But the report finding of an increase in the number of test results in excess of permitted MRLs is a cause for concern. National programmes revealed that 4.3% of samples exceeded the MRL; this was also the case for 8.7% of the samples in the Community programme which specifically targeted about 4,700 samples of cauliflower, peppers, wheat grains and melons in all EU countries, Iceland and Norway.

Room for improvement

The report therefore suggests that there is room for improvement where in a significant proportion of fresh food, statutory limits are not respected. This could be due to special problems that occurred during 1999 with chlormequat residues in pears and methamidophos residues in peppers. Because authorities were aware of this, more targeted testing was undertaken. In a small part of pepper samples high levels of methamidophos and endosulfan were found, which gives some reason for concern if compared with acute risk assessments carried out. Fungicides continue to be the most commonly detected type of residue.

Samples for both national and EU coordinated programmes were taken from retailers, wholesalers, markets, points of entry and processing industries. National sampling programmes also take into consideration: consumption data, production figures, import/export relation and risks in comparison of data with other years.

The full report including detailed data is available on:

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