The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission (EC) has published the report of the year 2000 pesticide residue monitoring programme.

The report highlights the results of the analysis of pesticide residues in 45,000 samples of fruits, vegetables and cereals. The results on these tests provide conflicting messages. The good news is that 61% of the samples contained no detectable pesticide residues and that in a further 35% the levels found were below the maximum safety limits. However, in the remaining 4.5% of samples these limits were exceeded. Although this does not necessarily present a health risk to consumers, it points to the scope for further progress in reducing residue levels.

The results come from an EU-wide programme co-ordinated by the EC and from national monitoring programmes undertaken by the Member States’ authorities according to their own priorities. The co-ordinated programme exists since 1996 and aims to check the most important pesticide-crop combinations as a multi-annual rolling programme.

Despite the constant percentage of about 60% of samples containing no residues at all over the last five years, the report’s findings of results in excess of permitted Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) is a cause for concern. However, the pesticide levels found in samples that exceeded the maximum limits fall within a range that would not cause harm if eaten. National programmes revealed that on average 4.5% of samples exceeded the MRL; this was also the case for 2.7% of the samples in the EC programme, which specifically targeted about 3,700 samples of rice, cucumbers, head cabbage and peas in all EU countries, plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The report also revealed that in 15% of the samples analysed, residues of more than one pesticide were present. Samples containing 4 or more residues increased to about 3%, in part due to more effective testing.

The report thus shows that there is room for improvement with regard to the pesticides residues situation in fresh foodstuffs, in particular the number of violations of the statutory limits and the findings of multiple residues. On the other hand the increased number of detected residues and identified MRL violations shows that competent authorities are aware of the problems and have taken enforcement measures to overcome the situation. In most countries sampling has been targeted to specific problems, which were identified by results of previous monitoring programmes and by improved communication between Member States. In addition, enhanced analytical methods, able to detect a wider range and lower contents of residues, have been used. On average the laboratories of the participating countries were able to analyse for 150 different pesticides.

Fungicides and insecticides continue to be the most commonly detected type of residues. Of the four commodities analysed in the coordinated EC programme head cabbage and peas were the most problematic – residues were detected most often and MRLs were exceeded most often.

Samples for both national and EU coordinated programmes were taken from retailers, wholesalers, markets, points of entry and processing industries. National sampling programmes also take into consideration: consumption data, production figures, import/export relation and results of previous years.

To read the full report, including detailed data, click here