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Food products: EFSA publishes pesticide residue data

05/08/2019 - François-Xavier Branthôme - Read in French
95.9% of the samples within the legal limits

 The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its 2017 findings on pesticide residue in food products.
This latest annual report describes in detail the official control activities carried out for pesticide residues by EU Member States, Iceland and Norway in 2017. Under Article 31 of Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, Member States are requested to share the results of their official control activities and other relevant information with the European Commission, EFSA and other Member States. Based on the results provided by the reporting countries, a detailed analysis was performed on the pesticide occurrence data in the relevant food products consumed and the dietary risk related to the exposure of European consumers to pesticide residues was estimated.
Tomato News summarizes some of the most important analyses and conclusions from this report, which also focused on tomato products

This report summarizes the results of both the 2017 EU-coordinated control program (EUCP) and the national control programs (NP). While the NPs are mostly risk based (so called enforcement samples) focusing on pesticides or products originating from countries where a number of exceedances have been observed in the past, the EUCP aims to present a statistically representative snapshot of the situation of pesticide residues in food products that are mostly consumed in the EU following a random sampling procedure. The report includes the outcome of a dietary risk assessment based on the results of the overall 2017 control programs.

EU-coordinated and national programs
The reporting countries analyzed 88 247 samples for 801 pesticides. On average, 229 pesticides were analyzed per sample. Most of the samples (56 718, 64.3% of the total) originated from the reporting countries (EU, Iceland and Norway); 25 409 samples (28.8%) were from products imported from third countries. The origin of the products was unknown for 6 120 samples (6.9%).
Overall, 95.9% of the samples analyzed (EUCP and national programs) fell within the legal limits (84 627 samples), i.e. the measured levels did not exceed the MRLs permitted in EU legislation. In 4.1% of the samples, the residue levels exceeded the MRLs (3 620 samples). Considering the measurement uncertainty, 2.5% of the samples (2 221 samples) exceeded the legal limits (noncompliance) triggering legal or administrative actions. 54.1% of the samples tested did not contain quantifiable residue levels (residue levels were below the LOQ (Quantifiable Levels of residues)) and 41.8% contained quantified residues below the MRLs.

In 2017, the MRL exceedance rate was 4.1% vs 3.8% in 2016. This difference between 2016 and 2017 can be explained to a certain extent by the increased number of enforcement samples taken in 2017, which was more than twice the number taken in 2016.
Residues in unprocessed food products were not quantified in 51.7% of the samples; 44% of them contained quantified residues within the legal limits and 4.3% exceeded the MRLs. Processed products had a higher rate of samples without quantified residues (71.4%) and a lower occurrence of quantified residues (25.9%) as well as a lower MRL exceedance rate (2.7%).
Samples from third countries had a higher MRL exceedance rate (7.6%) and a higher noncompliance rate (5.5%) compared to food produced in the EU, which had MRL exceedance rate of 2.6% and non-compliance rate of 1.3%.

Further to imported products and baby food products, 5 806 samples of organic food (excluding baby food samples) were sampled; 5 010 samples (86.3%) did not contain quantifiable residues, whereas 711 samples (12.2%) contained residues within legal limits; most of these samples contained only residues of substances that do not necessarily come from a pesticide use (e.g. naturally occurring substances and persistent organic pollutants). The MRLs were exceeded in 1.5% of the organic samples analyzed (85 samples), of which 0.7% (38 samples) were non-compliant.

Results by food products
Regarding processed food products, the overall MRL exceedance rate was lower (2.7%) (Figure 50) than the one of unprocessed products (4.3%) (Figure 49). Like in 2016, frequent MRL exceedances were reported for pesticide residues in processed: grape leaves (and similar species), fruits and tree nuts, tomatoes, wild fungi, sweet peppers and rice. MRLs exceedances were also identified in milk (cattle), pumpkin seeds and table grapes (more than 4% of the samples).
The numbers in brackets after the name of the food product refer to the number of samples below the LOQ, between the LOQ and the MRL and exceeding the MRL. Only products with at least 30 samples.

In the case of tomato products, 177 samples were analyzed. For 83 of them, residue levels were below the LOQ. For 65 samples, quantifiable levels of residue were detected, though below de MRL. 29 samples exceeded these limits.

Multiple residues in the same sample
According to the report, multiple residues in one single sample may result from the application of different types of pesticides (e.g. application of herbicides, fungicides or insecticides against different pests or diseases) or use of different active substances avoiding the development of resistant pests or diseases and or uptake of persistent residues from soil from previous seasons treatments or spray/dust drift to fields adjacent to treated fields. Besides multiple residues resulting from agricultural practice, multiple residues may also occur due to mixing or blending of products with different treatment histories at different stages in the supply chain, including contamination during food processing. According to the EU legislation, the presence of multiple residues in a sample is not a non-compliance, as long as each individual residue level does not exceed the individual MRL set for each active substance.
In 2017, of the 88 247 samples analyzed, 40 326 samples (45.7%) contained one or several pesticides in quantified concentrations. Multiple residues were reported in 24 292 samples (27.5% vs 30.1% in 2016).

The frequency of multiple residues was found to be slightly higher in unprocessed products (29%) compared to the processed products (12%) for samples containing more than one pesticide in concentrations higher or equal to the LOQ. Among the 355 samples with more than 10 pesticides, 78 were corresponding to processed products and 277 to unprocessed products.
An analysis was performed for processed food products in which the results for the top-ranked products with multiple residues were broken down by the number of residues found in quantified concentrations; only food products with at least 10 samples analyzed are included. The highest frequency of multiple residues was found for processed sheep milk (54% of the total processed samples analyzed), grape leaves and similar species (50%), table grapes (44%), sweet peppers/bell peppers (43%), tomatoes (37%), apricots (36%) and wild fungi (30%).
The numbers in brackets after the product name refer to number of samples without quantified residues/with 1 residue/with multiple residues. Only processed products with at least 10 samples with multiple residues reported.

In the case of tomato products, the same 177 samples were used for multiple residue analyses. 83 of them revealed no detectable residue. 28 samples contained one single residue, and 66 samples contained two or more residues.

Dietary exposure and dietary risk assessment
Dietary exposure to pesticide residues is estimated by combining EU food consumption information from dietary surveys provided by Member States with occurrence data of pesticide residues per food commodity. Based on current scientific knowledge, when dietary exposure to a substance is found to be lower than or equal to its toxicological reference values, the probability of this substance presenting a health risk to consumers is low. When dietary exposure to a substance exceeds its toxicological reference values, negative health outcomes cannot be excluded.
The short-term or acute risk assessment compares the short-term dietary exposure per pesticide residue (mg of residue/kg body weight (bw) per day) to the substance’s acute reference dose (ARfD, in mg of residue/kg bw). The chronic or long-term risk assessment compares the long-term dietary exposure per pesticide residue (mg of residue/kg bw per day) to the substance’s acceptable daily intake (ADI in mg of residue/kg bw per day).
Based on the above, EFSA concluded that according to current scientific knowledge, short-term and long-term dietary exposure to the 171 pesticide residues of the 2017 EUCP at the assessed levels for the food commodities analyzed, are unlikely to pose concerns for consumer health.

Some complementary data
This report also presents many results, schematics, comments and detailed conclusions according to the country of origin, to the type of food product, and to each pesticide, as well as observations regarding the possible causes for the presence of residues, and data evaluation regarding exposure to intense food-risks (short-term) and chronic food-risks (long-term).

Complete findings were published in the EFSA Journal

Source: EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), 2019. Scientific report on the 2017
European Union report on pesticide residues in food,





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