"We will follow the development of pesticide residues very closely in the future. A recent Eurobarometer survey revealed that « no pesticides » is the main criterion for European consumers to regard a product as safe", said Emma Bonino, European Commissioner for Consumer Policy. "Therefore Member States must make sure that maximum residue levels are respected." MRLs are fixed for each pesticide and for each crop and must be toxicologically acceptable. "As far as imported non-veterinary products namely fruit and vegetables are concerned, it would be appropriate from an health point of view to introduce systematic health checks at the frontier to the EU, following the example of the veterinary sector", demanded Mrs Bonino.
"Not alone is it imperative from a human health point of view but indeed is also economically beneficial for producers that good farming practices be appplied in such a way as to ensure that there are no pesticide residues in food products", said Mr Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture and Rural Policy. "Member state authorities have a responsibility, indeed an obligation under EU law to check for pesticide residues in such a way as to give the maximum guarantees to consumers reagrding the safety of food products.
Pesticide residue levels in foodstuffs are generally fixed for three reasons : To minimise the exposure of consumers to harmful or unnecessary intake of pesticides, to control the correct use of pesticides and to ease the free circulation of products treated with pesticides in the Single Market. For the moment, more than 800 pesticides are used in the EU. For 73 of them common MRLs exist on EU level. If no harmonised MRLs are fixed, Member States can set national MRLs.
In the national monitoring programmes, the rate of exceedences of the MRLs vary widely between the Member States, more due to differences in the monitoring programmes rather than differences in the presence of pesticide residues in food. About 13 % of the samples contained residues of more than one pesticide. Residues most often found were from vinclozolin, iprodione, procymidone, dithiocarbamates, endosulfan, thiabendazole, chlorpyriphos, carbendazim, imazalil, captan, chlorothalonil and methamidophos. These pesticides are either fungicides (9) or insecticides (3).
Under EU legislation, Member States are required to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance with MRLs by carrying out random checks. Member States are therefore running national monitoring programmes. In addition, a co-ordinated EU monitoring exercise was introduced for the first time in 1996. Seven pesticides (acephate, chlorpyriphos, chlorpyriphos-methyl, methamidophos, iprodione, procymidone and chlorothalonil) and two groups of pesticides (benomyl group and dithiocarbamates) were analysed in apples, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and grapes. An average of about 9700 samples was analysed for each of these plant protection products. Henceforth, a pesticide monitoring programme shall be conducted and a report submitted every year.
In the co-ordinated EU programme, residues from dithiocarbamates were found most often and also exceeded the respective MRLs most often, followed by residues from pesticides of the benomyl group. Pesticides belonging to these two groups are used as fungicides in a wide variety of crops and a re-evaluation of their potential health risks is ongoing. The highest value found was exceeding more than ten times the MRL as fixed in EU legislation.
The final report is available on the internet in English, French and German: (http:/europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/pi/reports/index_en.html).