Pesticide residues ‘clearly exceed’ legal limits in 1.5% of European foods

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Strawberries were most likely to contain excessive levels of pesticides, with 2.5% above the legal limit
Strawberries were most likely to contain excessive levels of pesticides, with 2.5% above the legal limit

Related tags: Pesticide residues, European union

Pesticide residues in raw and processed foods clearly exceeded legal limits in 1.5% of European foods in 2013, according to a new assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

EFSA’s latest annual analysis of pesticide residues in foods sold in 27 EU member states, Iceland and Norway found 54.6% of foods had no detectable residues at all, while 1.5% had levels high enough to warrant sanctions against the food business operators responsible, beyond any margin of error in the way residues were measured.

EFSA said 97% of foods’ residues were within legal limits and the chance of exposure to pesticides at levels that could affect long-term health outcomes was low.

“Overall, EFSA concluded that dietary exposure to the pesticides covered by the EU-coordinated monitoring programme of 2013, for which toxicological data are available, was not likely to pose a long-term health risk,”​ it said.

Apples and peaches

However, it did not rule out the risk of some European citizens being exposed to high levels of pesticide residues in the short term, mainly chlorpyrifos residues in apples and peaches if the fruits were not washed or peeled.

“EFSA concluded that the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residues exceeding concentrations that may lead to negative health outcomes was low,”​ it said.

Most of the nearly 81,000 samples (68.2%) were foods from Europe. The percentage of samples from third countries exceeding legal limits was higher (5.7%) than for EU countries (1.4%), EFSA said, although the proportion of imported foods that exceeded legal limits was down from 7.5% a year earlier.

Fewer residues in processed foods

Processed foods were less likely than unprocessed foods to have any detectable pesticide residues, which were found in 28.2% of the samples, with 1.2% found to be over the limit. Meanwhile, 48.9% of unprocessed foods contained residues, with 2.8% over the legal limit.

EU member states were also asked to assess pesticide residues in 12 food products: apples, head cabbage, leek, lettuce, peaches (including nectarines), rye or oats, strawberries, tomatoes, cow’s milk, swine meat and wine.

The results found all rye, cow’s milk or swine meat samples were within legal limits. Strawberries were most likely to contain excessive residues, with 2.5% of samples over the legal limit, followed by lettuce (2.3%), oats (1.3%), peaches (1.1%), apples (1%), head cabbage (0.9%), tomatoes (0.9%), leek (0.5%) and wine (0.1%).

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