Today's report on pesticide residues in food indicates that almost all are well within safety levels set by independent experts, Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, said today.

Commenting on the 1999 report of the Working Party on Pesticide Residues (now known as the Pesticide Residues Committee), Sir John said: "This report covers the year before the Food Standards Agency came into existence. It shows that of the 2,500 food samples tested, only two presented possible health risks to the public and speedy and appropriate action was taken to deal with those incidents.

" We are concerned that 1.6% of samples exceed the legal limits and that is unacceptable. However they are will within safety margins. We are pleased that measures are in place to detect breaches of safety limits and that action is being taken promptly where ever the legal limits are exceeded.

" Of course, the whole point of setting these standards are that they at levels which allow for very large margins of safety for consumers. There should be no doubt that the overall picture is one that shows that food safety standards are being maintained but we will continue to review pesticide levels."

Sir John added that the FSA was taking action to deal with consumer concerns on the so-called 'cocktail' effect of pesticide residues. He said:

" There have been consumer concerns about the possibility of multiple residues of pesticides in commonly-eaten food, such as oranges, apples and celery. The Agency is seeking expert advice on this from a working group of the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products, and the Environment (COT)."

The FSA recognises that consumers are concerned about different combinations of pesticide residues that are in food although there is no current evidence that they present any health risks.

The recently-formed Pesticide Residues Committee has an independent membership, and will in future report surveillance results more frequently. This will offer consumers more information, faster. The release of brand names is now established, mirroring the approach taken by the Food Standards Agency in its own food surveys.