Food Law News - EU - 2004

Commission Press Release (IP/04/1485), 15 December 2004

PESTICIDES - Kyprianou welcomes Parliament and Council agreement on EU maximum residue levels

The European Commission has welcomed the adoption today by the European Parliament of amendments to a Regulation aiming to harmonise at European level the maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides permitted in products of plant and animal origin. The amendments adopted by MEPs are also approved by the Council, which will enable the final adoption of the Regulation by Council in the next few months. Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the vote, marking agreement between the Commission, Council and Parliament. He said, “This legislation provides for Europe-wide limits for pesticide residues on food products, providing reassurance and certainty for consumers and making trade easier within the EU. It also takes account of differences in diet across Europe and explicitly protects vulnerable groups like children. ”

The European Commission will now develop implementing measures setting concrete Europe-wide maximum levels for permitted pesticide residues. All MRLs for pesticides will become harmonised after a transitional ‘phase-in' period, and will in future only be set at the European level. The Regulation removes all trade inconsistencies that result from the current situation whereby Member States can set their own national MRLs in the absence of EU-wide (Community) MRLs. An important amendment added by the European Parliament, which is welcomed by the Commission, is to take into account the cumulative effects of pesticides acting in a similar way. The Commission has already asked EFSA to develop methods for calculating such effects when setting MRLs.

In addition to consolidating and simplifying existing legislation, a primary objective of the Regulation is to define the roles of the different actors in the process of setting MRLs. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be responsible for risk assessment, while the Commission will provide risk management by setting the MRLs, taking EFSA's opinions into consideration.

The Commission co-ordinates a multi-annual programme of residues monitoring with the Member States. EFSA will use this data for risk assessment.

What are MRLs?

A MRL is the upper legal limit of a pesticide residue to be found on a food or feed commodity. It is not a toxicological limit and a violation is not necessarily a cause of concern for public or animal health. For pesticides authorized for agricultural use, the MRLs are set at the maximum safe level that one would expect if the pesticide is used according to the rules and restrictions specified in the authorisation. The setting of safe levels takes specific groups of the population, such as children or adults with different national diets, into account.

For example, children consume a lot of apple juice and the MRL is therefore set to ensure that safe levels will not be exceeded even with a high level of consumption.

More information can be found at:

Next steps

This is a framework Regulation and implementing measures now need to be developed and adopted. This includes developing a list of crops for which MRLs should be set, compiling all current national MRLs and selecting the most appropriate ones for use at EU level, as well as the identification of pesticides for which it is not necessary to set MRLs. This work is expected to take 18 months to complete, after which the Regulation can become fully applicable.

The Regulation replaces and simplifies the four existing basic Council Directives on pesticide residues, namely Directives 76/895/EEC, 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC.

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