The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has recommended lower Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for several active substances used in pesticides that the European Commission considered could have possible safety concerns for human health.
The Commission had asked EFSA to assess the safety of existing MRLs for 15 active substances used in pesticides and, taking into account EFSA’s scientific advice, may propose to amend or remove the relevant MRL.
MRLs are defined as the maximum concentration of pesticide residue, expressed as milligrams of residue per kilogramme of food, likely to occur in or on food after the use of pesticides.
According to the EFSA opinion on one of the active substances, Vinclozolin, existing EC MRLs for scarole, kiwi, table grapes, peppers, melons, lettuce, watermelons, apples, currants, witloof, pears, strawberries, aubergines, Chinese cabbage, plums, apricots and wine grapes were identified as some of the MRLs of concern for the substance.
Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 establishes the MRLs of pesticides permitted in products of animal or vegetable origin intended for human or animal consumption.
The Regulation, applicable since September 2008, repeals the previous fragmentary legislation and replaces all national MRLs with harmonised EU MRLs for all foodstuffs. Prior to this, each member state applied its own MRLs for about 250 active substances which were not covered by EU MRL legislation.
The Commission said that this Regulation No 396/2005 completes the harmonisation and simplification of pesticide MRLs, whilst ensuring better consumer protection throughout the EU.
“Nowadays food and feed circulate freely on the EU internal market, and therefore it is indispensable to assure that all EU consumers are equally protected from the exposure to unacceptable levels of pesticides in their food,” said the Commission.
EFSA is the single risk assessment body involved in every MRL-setting procedure.
EFSA called for lower MRLs where safety concerns were identified and also for substances where data available were not sufficient to substantiate the safety of the current MRL.
In addition, for active substances not authorised in the European Union but which may be found as residues on or in imported food, the agency recommended that MRLs be set at the lowest level which can be measured through routine monitoring.
EFSA said that, from 2009, it will also provide a report of actual consumer exposure to pesticides on an annual basis.
Meanwhile, UK food manufacturers claim the outcome of a recent vote supporting tighter pesticide usage by the European Parliament’s environment committee fails to fully recognise the potential gravity of the emerging situation.
The committee approved a ban on pesticides that are toxic to human health as part of the proposed EU Framework Directive regulation, which will lay down common objectives and requirements for sustainable use of pesticides amid growing public concern over their impact.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said that the ban would have serious implications for raw material supplies and prices, which it argues are already under pressure due to factors such as climate change and increasing global demand from biofuels and emerging economies:
“The FDF fully supports the need for plant protection products to be subjected to rigorous scientific risk based approval to protect human and environmental health.
“However, we are very concerned by the Government’s estimates that the UK would suffer 20 to 30 per cent reductions in arable yields and an inability to grow a range of fruit and vegetables as a result of the Commission’s proposal.”
The FDF said it will to continue to press the European Parliament, Council and Commission to reach decisions on this proposal based upon a robust impact assessment.
EFSA opinions can be downloaded here .