(Beyond Pesticides, September 3, 2008) On September 1, new rules that set harmonized maximum reside levels (MRLs) for pesticides went into force in the European Union (EU), despite opposition from environmental groups that claim the new rules expose consumers to unacceptable levels of contamination. This new regulation, Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, is the result of a considerable joint effort by the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Member States, and aims to revise and simplify standards pertaining to pesticide residues and, according to officials, helps to strengthen food safety across Europe.
The new MRLs aim to remove the confusion associated with dealing with 27 lists of national MRLs. Previously, different MRLs could apply to the same pesticide for the same crop in different member states, which led to confusion, especially in cases where food residues exceeding defined MRLs in one member state were acceptable in another. Traders of produce will now be able to do business smoothly as the confusion surrounding various MRLs is eliminated. The regulation covers approximately 1100 pesticides and lists MRLs for about 315 agricultural products. The MRLs also apply to processed products.
“The new rules apply the principle that food produced or imported in one member state must be safe for consumers in all of them,” says EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou. “They ensure that pesticide residues in food are as low as possible and have no harmful effects.”
However, environmental groups claim that the new rules violate food safety by exposing consumers to unacceptable levels of contamination. Many groups have even threatened legal action- two groups, Natuur en Milieu and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, have already lodged an appeal at the Court of First Instance. The groups are united in their condemnation of the rules and cite that the methodologies by which the new limits were devised are questionable and urge that further consideration of cumulative effects of pesticides on human health be studied.
Elliot Cannell, Coordinator, PAN Europe, said that the European Commission has failed to deliver on its obligation to set legal limits at the lowest achievable level as agreed in the Regulation. “For each pesticide, the [European] Commission identified the country with the worst safety limit and then sought to adopt this level as the new EU-wide standard. European consumers will now receive a much lower level of protection from dietary exposure to over 200 different pesticides,” Mr. Cannell said.
A joint analysis*, published last week by Greenpeace and Global 2000, found that almost 700 of the MRLs in fruit and vegetables were too high. 94 EU limits exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI). When the ADI is exceeded there can be chronic damage to health such as cancer, disruption to the reproduction system or hormones. The study singled out apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes and sweet peppers as those with an unacceptable level of contamination and pose risks, especially to children.
Food items sold in Europe contain 349 different pesticides. Approximately half of all food items are contaminated, while over 5% of fruits, cereals and vegetables contain 5 or more pesticides.
To avoid pesticide contaminated foods, organic produce should be bought whenever possible.
For more information of the many benefits of organic food, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food program page.
* Report published in German and English