08 Apr 2021 — European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s latest report on pesticide residues in food in the EU has revealed that pesticide levels have dropped. Nonetheless, EFSA is now calling for better risk management options for food consumed in the region.
The findings are a valuable source of information for food business operators and can be used to enhance the efficiency and safety of self-control systems, according to EFSA.
“Overall, the results are slightly better than previous years,” an EFSA spokesperson tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“The number of samples within the legal limit was higher in 2019 (96.1 percent) than in previous years (95.5 percent in 2018), and lower Maximum Residues Level (MRL) exceedances (3.9 percent in 2019 versus 4.5 percent in 2018).”
Data from 2019 is the latest available from EFSA.
EFSA collects monitoring data of official controls carried out by Member States to confirm good agricultural practice (GAP) applied by EU countries and to ensure that food placed on the European market is safe regarding pesticide residues intake.
A snapshot of food
A total of 96,302 samples were analyzed in 2019, 96.1 percent of which fell within legally permitted levels. For the subset of 12,579 samples analyzed as part of the EU-coordinated control program (EUCP), 98 percent were within legal limits.
The EUCP analyzed samples randomly collected from 12 food products – apples, head cabbages, lettuce, peaches, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, oat grain, barley grain, wine (red and white), cow’s milk and swine fat.
Of those samples analyzed:
- 6,674 or 53 percent were found to be free of quantifiable levels of residues.
- 5,664 or 45 percent contained one or more residues in concentrations below or equal to permitted levels.
- 241 or 2 percent had residues exceeding the legal maximum of which 1 percent led to legal actions.
The program covers similar baskets of products on a three-year rotation, which means upward or downward trends can be identified for specific goods.
So, compared to 2016, the exceedance rate fell for peaches (from 1.9 percent to 1.5 percent), lettuce (2.4 percent to 1.8 percent), apples (2.7 percent to 2.1 percent) and tomatoes (2.6 percent to 1.7 percent).
Exceedances rose for strawberries (1.8 percent to 3.3 percent), head cabbages (1.1 percent to 1.9 percent), wine grapes (0.4 percent to 0.9 percent) and swine fat (0.1 percent to 0.3 percent).
As in 2016, no exceedances were found in cow’s milk.
“Baby food samples decreased the level of pesticide findings over three consecutive years,” the spokesperson notes.
Since these results indicate possible misuses of non-approved active substances, it is recommended that the Member States follow up on these findings, investigating the reasons for their presence and use and taking corrective measures where appropriate.
“Samples labeled as organic, compared to conventional production, keep the tendency of lower level findings. However, in animal products, this tendency has been altered, says the spokesperson.
“Persistent pesticides can still be found in this type of food. It is worth investigating the reasons for this finding and to food business operators to care about the use of organic labeling to help growing trust in European consumers,” they note.
As well as the harmonized, comparable data collected under the coordinated program, EFSA’s annual report also includes data collected as part of the national control activities carried out by the individual EU Member States, Norway and Iceland.
EFSA carried out a dietary risk assessment as part of its analysis of the results. This suggested that the food commodities analyzed in 2019 are unlikely to pose a concern for consumer health.
However, several recommendations are proposed to increase European control systems’ efficiency, thereby continuing to ensure a high level of consumer protection.
By Elizabeth Green
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