The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a regulation aiming to harmonise at the European level the maximum residue levels (MRLs) of pesticides permitted in products of plant and animal origin.

David Byrne, commissioner for health and consumer protection noted that it consolidates and simplifies current legislation. "After 27 years of piecemeal legislation at the EU and national level, this regulation sets out a harmonised framework for maximum residue levels of pesticides," he said. "It will provide significant protection to consumers across Europe."

The consequence of this draft regulation entering into force will be that all MRLs for plant protection products will become harmonised after a transitional 'phase-in' period, and will thenceforth only be set at the European level. The Commission said the regulation removes all trade inconsistencies that result from the current situation whereby Member States can set their own national MRLs in the absence of community MRLs.

In addition to consolidating and simplifying existing legislation, a primary objective of the regulation is to define the roles of the different actors in the process of setting MRLs. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be responsible for risk assessment, while the Commission will provide risk management by setting the MRLs, while taking EFSA's opinions into consideration. The Commission already has an active programme of annual residues monitoring in place, which will be able to feed EFSA with additional data for risk assessment.

The Commission will now submit the draft regulation for approval by the European Parliament and Council as well as notifying its trading partners in the World Trade Organisation and in the Cotonou agreement with the ACP-countries. It is hoped that the proposal will enter into force before January 2005.

An MRL is the upper legal limit of a pesticide residue to be found on a food or feed commodity. It is not a toxicological limit and a violation is not necessarily a cause of concern for public or animal health. For pesticides authorised for agricultural use, the MRLs are set at the maximum safe level that one would expect if the pesticide is used according to the rules and restrictions specified in the authorisation.

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