Food Law News - UK - 1999

10 December 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Action Taken on Pesticide Residues in Sweet Peppers

MAFF News Release (438/99), 10 December 1999

Action Taken on Pesticide Residues in Sweet Peppers

Results have been published today by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on pesticide residues found in Spanish sweet peppers on sale in the United Kingdom. The survey was carried out in response to reports from Finland that some peppers were found to contain high levels of the pesticides methamidophos and endosulfan.

The overall monitoring shows that ten Spanish samples, collected from UK supermarkets in the last two weeks, contained levels of methamidophos above the statutory maximum residue level which came into force in August 1999. The very highest levels of methamidophos found in both the UK and Finnish samples could result in consumers eating a large portion of peppers experiencing a mild stomach upset. They would not cause long term health effects.

Food Safety Minister, Baroness Hayman said:
"The Government's aim is to protect consumers. Whilst there is no immediate risk to human health, the situation is unacceptable and we are putting pressure on the Spanish authorities to introduce a pre-export screening programme for peppers destined for the UK market. We have acted immediately to establish whether the Spanish peppers on sale in the UK were safe from the consumer point of view. We have stepped up our testing and encouraged the food industry to do so too."

None of the samples contained endosulfan above the limit The highest level of endosulfan detected in Finland was unlikely to cause health effects but did erode safety margins built into acceptable consumer intake levels. The UK monitoring found residues in three samples but all were below statutory limits and none presented a risk to consumer safety.

Both methamidophos and endosulfan are used as insecticides. Methamidophos is an organophosphate with an MRL set at the limit of detection (LOD) of 0.01mg/kg. This came into force on 1 August 1999. Endosulfan is an organochlorine which has an MRL of 1 mg/kg. Endosulfan is approved for use on a range of crops in the UK. Methamidophos has no UK approval because no application has been made in the UK.

The results published today relate to 24 samples of Spanish peppers collected in the last two weeks and 61 samples of sweet peppers collected throughout 1999 as part of the Working Party on Pesticide Residues (WPPR) annual monitoring programme. Consumer risk assessments carried out by PSD and the Department of Health on the highest level of methamidophos reported by Finland (0.9 mg/kg) and the highest level found in the UK samples (0.8 mg/kg) suggested that the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) would be exceeded by 'high level' consumers. This could lead to mild stomach upsets. The risk assessment carried out on endosulfan suggested that the level reported by the Finns would erode the safety margins but is unlikely to lead to health effects in consumers. The levels of endosulfan found in the UK peppers were below the MRL.

Consumer risk assessments are carried out using intake levels established in consumer surveys. Predicted intake levels are then compared with the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD) which are established from toxicological studies. The ADI is the amount of pesticide which can be consumed safely every day throughout life without any possibility of ill health. The ARfD is the amount of pesticide which can be consumed in a single portion without causing ill health. These advisory limits have built in safety margins.

The MRL is not a safety limit. It is the maximum amount of a pesticide which is expected in a product if a pesticide has been applied correctly to a crop. An exceedance of an MRL does not necessarily represent a consumer safety concern. Pesticides residues monitoring is overseen by the Working Party on Pesticide Residues (WPPR) on behalf of the Government. The WPPR run an annual surveillance programme analysing around 2,500 samples for a wide range of pesticides. The number of individual tests run each year is over 90,000.

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