EFSA presents data on pesticide residues in food

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The non-compliance rate for pesticides in foods decreased in 2019, according to a report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The report is based on data from official national controls done by EU member states, Iceland and Norway.

For 2019, 96.1 percent of the 96,302 samples analyzed fell below the maximum residue level (MRL), 3.9 percent, or 3,720 samples, exceeded this level, of which 2,252 were non‐compliant based on measurement uncertainty.

The number of samples tested in 2019 increased compared to 91,015 in 2018. The MRL exceedance rate was 4.5 percent and the non-compliance rate was 2.7 percent in 2018.

Fipronil findings still featured in eggs with 23 samples and animal fat with eight. It is a veterinary medicinal product or biocide and presence in eggs is the result of illegal use. EFSA advised that member states continue analyzing for it in animal products. Ethylene oxide, which has prompted thousands of recalls across Europe from late 2020, was not mentioned.

Multiple findings and origin details
Reporting countries looked for 799 different pesticides in 2019. On average, 233 different ones were analyzed per sample. National control programs are risk-based, targeting products likely to contain pesticide residues or for which infringements have been identified in previous years.

Of all samples, 44.1 percent contained one or several pesticides in quantifiable concentrations, which is down from 47.8 percent in 2018. Multiple residues were reported in 25,584 samples. In a dried vine fruit sample with unknown origin, up to 28 different pesticides were found. In 313 tests, more than 10 pesticides were detected in the same sample.

The most frequently quantified pesticides were copper compounds, fosetyl, phosphane, bromide ion and chlorates. The one with the highest MRL exceedance rate was chlorate, a result in line with past years.

More than 61,000 samples came from one of the reporting countries and a quarter were from non-EU nations. Samples with unknown origin increased to 11.3 percent compared to 10 percent in 2018. France reported nearly half of its samples as unknown origin. Country of origin is a valuable piece of information for traceability reasons in the case of non-compliance, according to EFSA.

Of samples from the reporting countries, 2.7 percent exceeded the MRL and 1.3 percent were non-compliant. Samples from non-EU countries had a higher exceedance rate of 7.8 percent and a higher non-compliance level at 5.6 percent.

The highest MRL exceedance rates were linked to products from Malta, Cyprus and Poland, with more than 5 percent of samples above the MRL. The non-compliant rate was most for products grown in Malta, Cyprus and Bulgaria. The top exceedance rates for non-EU countries were in Laos, Malaysia, Ghana, Uganda, Vietnam, Pakistan, Dominican Republic, Thailand and Cambodia.

Food for children, organic and glyphosate
The MRL exceedance rate in processed food products for 9,983 samples, was 2.8 percent, which is lower than that for unprocessed products.

Among 86,319 samples of unprocessed food products, 4 percent had residues above their corresponding MRLs and 2.4 percent were non-compliant samples. The percentage of non-compliances is slightly lower than 2018.

The highest MRL exceedance rates were in grape leaves, yard-long beans, coriander leaves, chili peppers, watercress, passion fruits/maracujas, pitahaya (dragon fruit), celery leaves, pomegranates, teas, and prickly pears/cactus fruits.

Reporting countries analyzed 1,513 samples of foods for infants and young children. MRL exceedances were reported in 20 samples and non-compliance was found five times. In one case, five pesticide residues were reported in the same sample.

More than 6,000 samples of organic food were tested. In total, 76 samples had residue levels above their corresponding MRLs, of which 31 were non-compliant. Animal products showed a higher quantification rate in organic samples of 15 percent than conventional samples at 6 percent mainly because of hexachlorobenzene, DDT, thiacloprid and copper findings.

Glyphosate was analyzed by 26 countries. From the 13,336 samples of different products, it was quantified at levels below the MRL in 364 samples and levels exceeded the limit for 12 samples.

For the 12,579 samples in the EU‐coordinated control program (EUCP), 2 percent, or 241, exceeded the MRL and 120 were non‐compliant.

The EUCP covered apples, head cabbages, lettuce, peaches, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, oat grain, barley grain, wine, cow’s milk and swine fat. Samples were analyzed for 182 pesticide residues.

Pesticides, not approved in the EU and found on crops grown there at non-compliant levels, included acephate, carbofuran, chlorfenapyr, chlorothalonil, chlorpropham, clothianidin, cyfluthrin, dieldrin, iprodione, methomyl, oxadixyl and triadimefon. Non-approved residues found to be non-compliant on imported samples were acephate, chlorfenapyr, clothianidin, dichlorvos, fipronil, permethrin and thiamethoxam.

Because these results indicate possible misuse of non-approved substances, EFSA recommended that member states follow-up the findings to investigate reasons for their presence and use and take action where appropriate.

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