The majority of food on the EU market contain pesticide residues below legally permitted thresholds, known as maximum residue levels (MRLs), according to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) 2021 report on pesticides in foods. However, because of grapefruits, the rate at which pesticide residues exceeded the MRLs for sampled products rose slightly in recent years.
For the report, a total of 87,863 food samples were collected in the EU in 2021. Analysis of the results shows that 96.1 percent of samples fell within legally permitted levels. Additionally, a subset of 13,845 samples were analyzed as part of the EU-coordinated control program (EU MACP), and 97.9 percent of such samples were below MRLs. Alongside harmonized and comparable data collected under EU MACP, EFSA’s annual report also includes data collected as part of national control activities carried out by individual EU Member States, Norway, and Iceland.
EU MACP randomly collects samples of 12 food products for analysis. In 2021, collected food samples included aubergines, bananas, broccoli, cultivated fungi, grapefruits, melons, sweet peppers, table grapes, virgin olive oil, wheat, bovine fat, and chicken eggs. Of the samples analyzed in EU MACP:
- 58.1 percent (8,043 samples) were found to be free of quantifiable levels of residues
- 39.8 percent (5,507) contained one or more residues in concentrations below or equal to MRLs
- 2.1 percent (295) contained residues exceeding the permitted levels.
The same selection of products is sampled every three years, which means upward or downward trends between reports can be identified. The overall rate at which pesticide residues exceeded the MRL rose from 1.4 percent in 2018 to 2.1 percent in 2021. Excluding grapefruits, the average MRL exceedance rate was 1.4 percent in 2021, the same as in 2018. In 2021, EU Member States drew attention to the higher presence of pesticides residues in grapefruits imported from outside the EU and in the same year the European Commission increased border controls.
The detailed results of the control programs are available on EFSA’s website in the form of accessible charts and graphs.
EFSA also carried out a dietary risk assessment as part of its analysis of the results of pesticide residue sampling and analysis. Additionally, using the present data, a pilot probabilistic assessment on a subset of substances was introduced for the first time. The report suggests that the food commodities analyzed in 2021 are unlikely to pose a concern for consumer health. Nevertheless, the report includes a number of recommendations to increase the efficiency of European control systems for pesticide residues.