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Over 97% of foods in EU contain pesticide residues within legal limits

13 March 2015

More than 97% of food samples evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contain pesticide residue levels that fall within legal limits, with just under 55% of samples free of detectable traces of these chemicals.

The findings are part of EFSA’s 2013 annual report on pesticide residues in food, which includes the results for almost 81,000 food samples from 27 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway.

The 29 reporting countries carry out two monitoring programmes for the report: a national programme designed by each country, and an EU-coordinated programme under which all food control authorities monitor the same “basket” of food products. A combined total of 80,967 samples of a wide variety of processed and unprocessed food products were tested for the presence of 685 pesticides. The main findings are:

  • 97.4% of the samples analysed fell within legal limits;
  • 54.6% were free of detectable residues;
  • 1.5% clearly exceeded the legal limits, taking into account the measurement uncertainty, thus triggering legal or administrative sanctions against the food business operators responsible;
  • Residues of more than one pesticide (multiple residues) were found in 27.3% of samples.
 
The majority of samples (68.2%) were taken from food originating in Europe, with 27.7% coming from food imported from third countries. The percentage of samples from third countries exceeding legal limits was higher (5.7%) than for EU countries (1.4%). However, exceedance rates for imported food have fallen by nearly two percentage points (from 7.5%) since 2012.

For the EU co-ordinated programme, the reporting states tested 11,582 samples from 12 food products – apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, peaches, rye, oats, strawberries, tomatoes, cow’s milk, swine meat and wine. The results showed that 99.1% of the samples contained residue levels within permissible limits and almost 53% contained no measurable residues. 

Compared with the results for 2010, when the same food products – excluding wine – were tested, the percentage of samples exceeding the legal limits has fallen for all food products tested. 

EFSA used the data from the EU co-ordinated programme to assess whether current dietary exposure to pesticide residues presented a risk to human health in the long term (chronic) or short term (acute). The Authority concluded that the presence of pesticide residues in food was unlikely to have a long-term effect on consumer health. For short-term exposure, the risk of European citizens being exposed to harmful levels of residues via their diet was rated as low.


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