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April 14 2022

The 2020 European Union report on pesticide residues in food

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Last 30th March 2022, The European Food Safety Authority published the EU 2020 report on pesticide residues in food.

The report is based on data from the official national control activities carried out by EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. For 2020, 88.141 food samples were analysed. Of these, 12.077 samples are part of the EU Coordinate Control Programme (EU MACP).

The analysis of the results shows that:

  • 94.9% of the samples fell below the maximum residue level (MRL)
  • 5,1 % exceed the maximum residue level (MRL), of which, 3.6% were non-compliant; i.e. samples exceeding the MRL after taking the measurement uncertainty into account

The EU MACP analyses samples randomly collected from 12 food products: by 2020, samples of carrots, cauliflowers, kiwi fruits (green, red and yellow), onions, oranges, pears, potatoes, dried beans, brown rice, rye grain, bovine liver and poultry fat were selected. The listed food products are distributed across a 3-year cycle, so that every 3 years the same products are analysed.

For the subset of 12.077 samples analysed as part of the EU’s coordinated control programme (EU MACP), it was found that:

  • 98.2% of the samples fell below the maximum residue level (MRL)
  • 68.5% (8,278 samples) were free of quantifiable levels of residues (residues< LOQ)
  • 29.7% (3.590) with pesticide residues within legal limits (at or above the LOQ but below or at the MRL)
  • 1.7% (209) exceed the MRLs, of which 113 (0.9%) were found to be non-compliant based on the measurement uncertainty

Reporting countries analysed on average 60% of domestic products (i.e. samples from the reporting country), 22% from other EU countries, 14% from third countries and 4% of unknown origin.

National control programmes are risk-based and target products that probably contain pesticide residues or for which legal infringements have been detected in previous years. These programmes provide important information to risk managers, but, unlike the data on the EU MACP, they do not provide a statistically representative image of the levels of residues that would be expected to be found in food on the shelves of shops across Europe.

The results of the follow-up programmes are a valuable source of information for estimating the dietary exposure of EU consumers to pesticide residues. The EFSA carried out a dietary risk assessment as part of its analysis of the results, suggesting that it is unlikely that food products tested in 2020 will be a concern for consumer health.

Recommendations are proposed to increase the effectiveness of European control systems, thereby continuing to ensure a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU, among them:

  • Several EU non-approved pesticides were found repeatedly in randomly sampled food grown in the EU territory at levels exceeding the legal limits, namely:
    • oranges: dimethoate (RD), linuron (RD),
    • dried beans: triadimenol (RD),
    • carrots: iprodione (RD), linuron (RD), dieldrin (RD), chlorpyrifos-methyl (RD)
    • pears: chlorpyrifos (RD), iprodione (RD), diphenylamine (RD),
    • potatoes: chlorpyrifos (RD),fipronil (RD),
    • kiwi: dimethoate (RD),
    • rye grain: chlorpyrifos (RD), thiacloprid (RD),
    • rice: thiamethoxam (RD),
    • poultry fat: hexachlorobenzene (RD)

EFSA recommends keep analysing for it to account for its lowering frequency.

  • Several EU non-approved pesticides were found in concentrations exceeding the legal limit in randomly sampled food grown in third countries
    • dried beans: carbaryl (RD), chlorpyrifos (RD), fenitrothion (RD), hexaconazole (RD),
    • carrots: iprodione (RD),
    • kiwi: spirodiclofen (RD),
    • oranges: bromopropylate (RD), carbendazim (RD), fenbutatin oxide (RD), profenofos (RD),
    • pears: chlorpyrifos (RD),
    • rice: carbendazim (RD), chlorpyrifos (RD), hexaconazole (RD), profenofos (RD),thiamethoxam (RD), triazophos (RD), tricyclazole (RD)

EFSA recommends follow-up by Member States on import controls for these pesticides/crop combinations.

  • The EU non-approved active substances with the highest MRL exceedance rate (%) were found to be ethylene oxide (RD) (21.3%), chlorates (RD) (2.9%), chlordecone (RD) (0.9%), chlorpyrifos (RD) (0.4%) and anthraquinone (RD) (0.2%). Remarkably, the MRL exceedance rate reported for chlorate decreased compared with previous year (7.2%).

EFSA recommends that National authorities should consider the following pesticide/sample groupings when planning their monitoring programmes:

  • ethylene oxide (RD) in sesame seeds, peppercorn and buckwheat,
  • chlorates (RD) in leafy crops (lettuce, lamb’s lettuce/corn salads), tomatoes and beans with pods
  • chlordecone (RD) in cassava roots and chicken eggs,
  • chlorpyrifos (RD) sweet peppers/bell peppers, grape leaves, dried beans, pomegranates, potatoes and teas,
  • anthraquinone (RD) in tea.

Mérieux NutriSciences provides a wide range of services (including testing) to food manufacturers for pesticides residues quantification guaranteeing them to meet regulations and quality standards. Our laboratories are ISO17025 accredited.  Discover our complete scopes of ISO17025 accreditations: Italy and Germany.


Read more on the topic

The 2020 EU report on pesticides residues in food

National Summary reports on pesticides residues 2020

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