Almost 96 percent of food samples were free of pesticide residues or contained traces within legal levels, according to an annual European report.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) looked at the results of nearly 90,000 samples collected from 28 EU member states plus Iceland and Norway in 2017.

Overall, 95.9 percent of the 88,247 samples fell within legal limits. In 54.1 percent of samples, no quantifiable residues were reported so they had residue levels below the limit of quantification (LOQ), while 41.8 percent contained quantified residues at or below maximum residue levels (MRLs).

A total of 4.1 percent were above the MRL compared to 3.8 percent in 2016. This is partly because of an increase in enforcement samples taken, which was more than twice that of 2016 (10,677 in 2017 versus 4,173 in 2016).

Samples from third countries had a higher MRL exceedance rate (7.6 percent) and non-compliance (5.5 percent) compared to food produced in the EU, with 2.6 percent above the MRL and non-compliance rate of 1.3 percent.

MRL exceedance for anthraquinone in tea was identified again, there was an increase in non-compliant rice and pear tests and a lot of samples still contained residues of chlorpyrifos exceeding new lower legal limits.

A dietary risk assessment indicated the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residue levels that could lead to negative health outcomes was low, according to the report.

EU-harmonized MRLs are set for more than 500 pesticides covering 370 food products/groups. A default of 0.01 mg/kg is applicable for pesticides not mentioned in MRL legislation.

The highest MRL exceedance rates among reporting countries were for items from Cyprus, Greece and France (more than 4 percent of samples exceeded the MRL). High MRL exceedance rates for third countries, so more than 10 percent of samples, were found for Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Suriname, India, China, Thailand, Ethiopia, Jordan, Colombia and Kenya.

Pesticides mostly quantified were boscalid, imazalil, fludioxonil, acetamiprid, azoxystrobin and chlorpyrifos. In 97.5 percent of 8,672 samples glyphosate was not quantified. In 191 samples it was quantified at levels above the LOQ but below the MRL and in 21 samples residue levels topped the MRL.

National and EU combined results

National plans are mostly risk-based while the EU-coordinated control programme (EUCP) has a random sampling procedure.

In 2017, 12 food products were considered in EUCP: oranges, pears, kiwi fruits, cauliflowers, onions, carrots, potatoes, beans (dried), rye grain, husked rice grain, poultry fat and sheep fat. Kiwi fruits, onions and dried beans were included for the first time. Samples were analyzed for 171 pesticides.

Of the 11,158 samples analyzed, 7,236, or 64.9 percent, were without quantifiable levels of residues, 3,743 contained one or more pesticide residues in concentrations below or equal to the MRLs and 179 or contained residue concentrations exceeding the MRLs.

Above the MRL

High MRL exceedance rates were identified for pesticide residues in rice and pears followed by dried beans, carrots, rye, kiwi fruits, potatoes, oranges, cauliflower and onions.

Of the 28 MRL exceedances for pears, four originated from third countries, the rest were of EU origin. Chlormequat, ethephon, chlorpyrifos and propiconazole were involved. For rice, levels above the MRL were recorded in 48 samples, 28 of which came from South-East Asia, mostly India (21). Twenty-three MRL exceedances in rice were reported for carbendazim.

Among items of plant origin, dieldrin, parathion-methyl, and procymidone were found in carrots produced in the EU, dicloran in onions, fenthion, methidathion and profenofos in oranges, permethrin in pears, biphenyl and carbendazim in dried beans, carbendazim, permethrin and dichlorvos in rice and permethrin in rye. All these are non-EU-approved pesticides.

In samples from third countries, methidathion in kiwi fruits, chlorfenapyr, methidathion and profenofos in oranges, carbaryl and diazinon in dried beans, acephate, carbendazim, hexaconazole, methamidophos and triazophos, in rice exceeded legal limits.

Among unprocessed products with at least 50 samples, the highest MRL exceedance rates (greater than 10 percent) were found for watercress, coriander leaves, basil and edible flowers, grape leaves and similar species, granate apples/pomegranates, chilli peppers, pitahaya (dragon fruit), passion fruits/maracujas, basil (holy, sweet), mint, teas, parsley, celery leaves, papayas, okra, chards/beet leaves, chives, Chinese cabbages/pe-tsai, cassava roots/manioc and dried herbal infusions.

Frequent MRL exceedances were reported for pesticide residues in processed grape leaves (and similar species), fruits and tree nuts, tomatoes, wild fungi, sweet peppers, rice, milk (cattle), pumpkin seeds and table grapes.

Overall, 5,010 of 5,806 organic samples did not contain quantifiable residues; 711 contained quantified residues below or at the MRL level and 85 were reported with residue levels above their corresponding MRLs, of which 38 were non-compliant in 2017. The most frequently quantified residue was copper. MRL exceedances were most often for chlorate.

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