According to data released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the number of pesticides in food has risen above legal limits.
The rate of MRL exceedances in 2020 has increased compared to 2019 and 2018. It remained high for unprocessed and processed grape leaves, unprocessed cumin and processed Brazil nuts, which are not the subject of EU sampling.
The report is based on data from national official controls of the Member States of the European Union, Iceland and Norway and includes figures from the EU-coordinated control program using a randomized sampling strategy.
National control programs are risk-based and target products that are likely to contain pesticide residues or have been found to have non-compliance in the past few years.
National Targeted Findings
The number of samples has decreased by 9.3 percent compared to 2019, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reporting countries analyzed 659 pesticides, with an average of 264 per sample.
For 2020, 94.9 percent of 88,141 samples analyzed were below the MRL, 5.1 percent exceeded this level, of which 3.6 percent were non-compliant after accounting for measurement uncertainty. MRLs were exceeded in 3.9 percent of samples in 2019 and 2.3 percent triggered legal sanctions or enforcement actions.
The active substances not approved in the EU with the highest MRL exceedance rate were ethylene oxide, chlorates, chlordecone, chlorpyrifos and anthraquinone.
For ethylene oxide, 49 out of 230 samples were found to exceed the MRL and 46 samples were from sesame seeds. This problem was detected in sesame seeds from India in Belgium at the end of 2020. There are no safe levels set for this pesticide in the EU. Its use is linked to the reduction of salmonella.
For chlorpyrifos, 327 samples out of 73,874 exceeded the MRL. The substance has not been approved for use in the EU since April 2020.
Multiple residues were reported in 24,057 samples. Up to 35 different pesticides were found in a strawberry sample of unknown origin. Unprocessed peppers and sweet peppers and wine had the highest frequency of multiple quantified residues.
The EU program included carrots, cauliflower, kiwis, onions, oranges, pears, potatoes, dried beans, brown rice, rye grains, beef liver and poultry fat.
Of the 12,077 samples analyzed under this program, 1.7 percent exceeded the MRL and 0.9 percent were non-compliant.
MRL exceedance rates increased from 2014 to 2017 and to 2020 for rice, oranges, pears and poultry fat. An increasing trend was also observed for dried beans, kiwis and cauliflower from 2017 to 2020.
Oranges, followed by pears, carrots and rice had the highest number of multiple residue samples. In a rice sample of unknown origin, 15 different pesticides were quantified.
A non-compliant result was reported for fipronil in potatoes. Detection of fipronil residues by Belgian authorities in 2017 led to millions of eggs being recalled in Europe.
Of 4,632 samples labeled as organic, 87 were reported with residue levels above their respective MRLs, of which 36 samples were non-compliant.
Up to 30 different pesticides have been found in honey, mainly thiacloprid. Substances with unauthorized uses such as Amitraz, Chlorfenvinphos and Coumaphos have been detected.
Samples imported from non-EU countries were found to have a higher MRL exceedance rate and non-compliance level compared to food produced in the EU.
A diet-related risk assessment by EFSA as part of its analysis of results suggests that the food products sampled are unlikely to pose a problem for consumer health.
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