Food Law News - EU - 2004

EP News Item, 25 November 2004

CONTAMINANTS - Pesticide residues in food: more emphasis on consumer health

The Environment Committee voted on Wednesday for greater emphasis to be placed on consumer protection in a new regulation on pesticide residue levels in food or animal feed. MEPs also want Member States to post on the internet the names of companies whose products exceed the maximum residue levels (MRLs) laid down by law. If Parliament's plenary backs these demands, the stage is set for a conflict with the Council. However, rapporteur Robert STURDY ( EPP-ED , UK ) said "there is room for further discussion with the Council and the Commission before the plenary vote in December if the other institutions so wish."

The draft regulation is intended to simplify existing legislation on maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides in food or feed. It replaces four existing directives and amends another. It defines the roles of the different actors in the process, particularly that of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). All MRLs are to be harmonised after a transitional 'phasing-in' period and will be set at European level. They will be listed in annexes, to be established by EFSA, the Commission and the Member States for around 1000 pesticides and 160 crops. For the interim, temporary MRLs, already in existence or based on national MRLs, will be used.

In its second-reading vote on Wednesday, the Environment Committee adopted, by 56 votes in favour with 5 abstentions, a large number of amendments to the Council Common Position. MEPs want to strengthen the core aim of the regulation by reintroducing an amendment from Parliament's first reading in April. This clarifies the aim of the regulation as being to set harmonised MRLs of pesticides in products "in order to protect all European consumers against possible health effects". For this purpose MRLs should be set at the lowest reasonably achievable level.

Another amendment calls on the Member States to publish on a quarterly basis all the results of national residue monitoring on the Internet. Where MRLs are exceeded Member States should be able to name the retailers, traders or producers concerned, says the committee. It also believes that MRLs for imported commodities should not normally exceed the MRL limits set for domestic commodities. The committee also reiterates a demand for a separate assessment for herbal infusions due to their many component parts.

MEPs also seek to clarify the definitions of certain terms used in the regulation. They believe that ”good agricultural practice” should entail integrated pest control in certain climate zones, as well as using the minimum quantity of pesticides and setting MRLs at the lowest level. In addition, the concepts of an "acute reference dose" (the amount of a substance in food that can be ingested over a short time without appreciable risk to the consumer) and of "acceptable daily intake" (the amount of a substance that can be ingested daily over a lifetime) should take account of "known cumulative and synergistic effects of the different plant protection products, as well as the higher vulnerability of children and the unborn".

To go to main Foodlaw-Reading Index page, click here.