The Authority’s 2009 European Union Report on Pesticide Residues in Food found that the number of foods exceeding legal maximum residues (MRLs) for pesticides was down from 4.4% in 2006 to 1.4% in 2009.
EFSA used 67,000 samples of nearly 300 different types of food in 27 EU member states and in Iceland and Norway to determine the prevalence of foods exceeding MRLs in 2009.
The report said that the reduction in the number of illegal pesticides residues was partially due to changes in EU legislation in 2008.
“The harmonisation has simplified the MRL system in Europe and therefore improved the clarity about which MRLs are applicable,” the report said.
It added that the changes in pesticide authorisation status and use patterns, the improvement in the data reporting system and the efficient implementation of the general provisions of the European food law may also have led to reduced levels for 2009.
Foods exceeding MRLs and health concerns
The highest percentages of foods exceeding MRLs were fruit and vegetables, such as table grapes (2.8%), peppers (1.8%) and aubergines. Wheat also showed illegal residues of 0.8%.
Overall, the number of pesiticides found in fruit, nuts and vegatables exceeded numbers found in cereal.
The most frequent residues found were HCH alpha and dimethoate.
Although EFSA has said that the vast majority of the 138 pesiticides tested do not raise health concerns for consumers, there are around a dozen which cannot be excluded from presenting a risk to consumers. This includes the commonly found pesticide dimethoate.
The report found that pesticide residues found in peppers could potentially be the most harmful to consumers.