EFSA made the assessment as it published its first Annual Report on Pesticide Residues for the year 2007 to measure consumer exposure to the substances through their diets.
The study found that 96 per cent of the 74,000 samples of almost 350 different food types complied with legal maximum residue levels (MRL), with only four per cent exceeding them, compared to five per cent in 2006. The report authors explained that MRLS are often incorrectly understood as being toxicological safety limits when in fact they are employed to ensure the residues on food pose no unacceptable risk for the health of consumers.
These results represent a summary of testing carried out by both the European Union and member states. EU testing targeted areas where previous non-compliance was more likely in a bid to form an accurate picture on legal compliance throughout the bloc.
A second set of findings published in the research based on harmonised tests carried out solely by EU officials in a less targeted way found that only 2.3 per cent of the samples exceeded MRLs. This second finding gave an indication of consumer exposure to pesticide residues as a whole, an EFSA spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com.
Other findings noted that for baby food, European legislation is more restrictive than for other food categories as no more than 0.01 mg/kg of any single pesticide residue is permitted in baby food samples. In 2007, 0.6 per cent of baby food samples exceeded the EC MRLs.
Some of the reporting countries also provided data on organic food despite the fact that no specific MRLs for them exist at EU level. The body therefore applies the MRLs for conventional produced product. The study found just 1.24 per cent of organic cereals, fruit and vegetables exceeded MRL levels compared to 3.99 per cent of conventionally grown products.
In assessing both chronic long-term and acute short-term consumer exposure, EFSA said it took a “cautious approach” and used conservative assumptions that overestimated exposure. It raised concerns about only one pesticide – diazinon – and noted “that since December 2007 all authorisations concerning this substance have been withdrawn and MRLs have been lowered”.
Benefits outweigh risks
Friedhelm Schmider, Director General of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), said: “The report’s findings demonstrate, once again, the low level of residues in the food we eat, a performance that has been tracked consistently in these reports over the years. This is another clear confirmation of the commitment of European agriculture to food safety”
He said the key requirement for staying healthy was to eat a balanced diet containing plenty of fruit and vegetables.
“Once again the report confirms that the risks residues might actually pose are far outweighed by the benefits of the affordable, balanced and healthy diet that pesticides help provide.”