The number of samples with pesticide residues above the legal limit has gone down in the European Union compared to the year before.

Almost 88,000 samples were collected in Europe in 2021. Overall, 96 percent of them fell within legally permitted levels. Almost 35,000 samples contained residues not exceeding legal limits.

More than 2,000 samples triggered legal sanctions or enforcement action as they exceeded the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) after accounting for measurement uncertainty. This rate decreased from 5.1 percent in 2020 to 3.9 percent in 2021.

Findings come from a report on pesticide residues in food published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Results from monitoring programs provide information for estimating the dietary exposure of EU consumers to pesticide residues. EFSA found that food commodities analyzed in 2021 were unlikely to pose a concern for public health.

Samples from non-EU countries showed a 5-fold MRL exceedance rate of 10.3 percent and a non-compliance rate of 6.4 percent compared with food produced within the EU.

Ethylene oxide, glyphosate, and organics

Non-approved chlorpyrifos and fluazifop were mainly found in wheat and broccoli, grown in the EU and randomly sampled, at levels above the legal limit.

Out of 2,011 samples where ethylene oxide was analyzed, 133 exceeded the MRL. Of these, 25 were sesame seeds from India. The issue was detected in late 2020 and controls of sesame seeds from India at borders were increased to 50 percent. EFSA also recommended that countries monitor the substance in curcuma, rice, and chili peppers from India.

Of all samples analyzed, 44 percent contained one or several pesticides in quantifiable concentrations. Multiple residues were reported in 23,177 samples and in one raisin sample of unknown origin, up to 39 different pesticides were reported.

In almost 15,000 samples glyphosate was not quantified. In 209 samples it was found but was below the MRL and in 23 samples residues were above the MRL. The non-compliance rate was lower than in 2020.

Overall, 5,408 organic samples did not contain quantifiable residues; 1,005 contained residues below or at the MRL, and 117 had residues above the MRLs, of which 68 samples were non-compliant. The substance exceeding the MRL the most was ethylene oxide on 18 occasions. Imazalil and chlorpyrifos, which are not authorized in organic farming, were found in some crops.

For honey, 894 samples had no quantifiable levels of residues and 119 were within legally permitted limits. MRLs were exceeded in 22 samples, of which 17 were non-compliant. In total, 28 different pesticides were found. The most frequent were thiacloprid and acetamiprid.

In 1,475 samples of baby food, no residues were quantified. Samples with residues below the MRL were found 182 times. In 29 samples, the MRL was exceeded and 10 led to non-compliant results, based on measurement uncertainty.

Tests of selected products

Of nearly 14,000 samples analyzed as part of the EU-coordinated control program, 98 percent were within legal limits. MRLs were exceeded in 295 samples, of which 184 were non-compliant based on measurement uncertainty. More than 5,500 samples had pesticide residues within legally permitted levels.

This program covered samples randomly collected from 12 products. For 2021, these were aubergines, bananas, broccoli, cultivated fungi, grapefruits, melons, sweet peppers, table grapes, virgin olive oil, wheat, bovine fat, and chicken eggs.

There were no non-compliant samples of chicken eggs for fipronil. Overall, from more than 55,000 fipronil results, 32 were above the legal limit.

The exceedance rate was impacted by a problem with grapefruits from Turkey. This prompted the level of official controls on such consignments to be increased to 10 percent.

In sweet/bell peppers from Cambodia, 28 different pesticides were quantified and in table grapes from Turkey, 19 pesticides were detected.

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