EFSA said 96.5 per cent of the 70,000 fruit, vegetable and cereal samples it analysed in 2008 complied with maximum levels permitted by the EU. This means that 3.5 per cent exceeded the legal limits, compared to 4.2 per cent in the previous year.
Over the same period there was also an increase in the percentage of food products found to contain no pesticide residues. At 62.1 per cent of samples, the figure was up on 2007 when it stood at 58 per cent and well above 2005 when only 52.7 per cent of samples were pesticide free.
Breaking down the pesticide data further, EFSA said high pesticide residues were more common in food from outside the EU. Only 2.4 per cent of EU produced food contained pesticide levels above legal limits, whereas as 7.6 per cent of the imported samples were above the limits.
Baby food figures
As for different food types, 2,062 samples of baby food were analysed and 76 contained traces of pesticides, 4 of which exceeded the legal limit of 0.01 mg/kg. European legislation is particularly restrictive in this area.
Regarding organic food products, maximum limits were exceeded in 0.9 per cent of the samples analysed. There are no specific EU limits for pesticide use in organic food although organic rules are strict about pesticide use.
A special unit at EFSA took the latest results and sought to determine whether they presented any health risks. According to their analysis, there were no health concerns attached to long-term exposure to any of the pesticides found in the 1998 survey.
As for short-term risks, taking a worst case scenario approach and assuming that people would eat large portions of foods containing the highest recorded residue levels, the unit concluded that a potential risk could occur but only in rare cases.