The UK government monitors the quantity of pesticides present in the most commonly contaminated food and the Pesticide Residues Committee oversees these tests and publishes a quarterly report on its findings.
The purpose of food residue monitoring is to check; that no unexpected residues are occurring in crops, residues do not exceed the statutory Maximum Residue Level, and that human dietary intakes of residues in foods are within acceptable levels.
The government takes a close look at each residue and checks for its health impact. Even when safety levels are exceeded, they almost always find that there is “no cause for concern”. At PAN UK, we believe that people are justified in being concerned about their health when they see safety levels being breached.
Pesticide Action Network uses the Pesticide Residues Committee’s reports and compiles our own assessment of the data to determine what foods have been tested and what pesticides have been found. We do this by taking a close look at how often pesticides at any level were detected and how frequently legal levels were exceeded.
PAN UK believes it is important to:
- Provide a clear summary of the test results for the public.
- Assess trends in the presence of residues on particular foods.
- Identify which food items would result in the greatest consumption of pesticide residues.
- Identify which pesticides most frequently occur as residues and to provide information the potential health impacts of these substances.
What are Maximum Residue Levels?
When monitoring pesticide residues in foods, the PRC checks to see if residues exceed the Maximum Residue Levels, or MRL. Maximum Residue Levels are the maximum concentration of pesticide residue to appear in or on food after the use of pesticides.
How are Maimum Residue Levels Calculated?
If there is an approved use of a compound on a particular crop, the MRL is generally set at a value determined from field trials. A field trial is when a crop has been treated with a pesticide and then samples of the crop are analysed to determine their residue levels. MRLs can typically be less than a milligram of pesticide residue in a kilogram of food (1mg/kg) up to 5 mg/kg. However, if there is no approved use, a residue level is set at the Limit of Determination (LOD). This is a level of residues reflecting the lowest level at which reliable analysis can be performed. The LOD MRLs are usually between 0.01 and 0.05 mg/kg.
What is the purpose of Measuring MRLs?
The MRL is not a health-based exposure limit, and exposure to residues in excess of an MRL does not directly imply a health risk. This is due to the fact that if the proposed MRL resulted in pesticide residues above safety limits in the human diet, then the use of a pesticide would not be allowed. If a food has a higher level of residue than the MRL it does not automatically mean that the food is not safe to eat. A residue above the MRL may show that the farmer has not used the pesticide properly. MRLs are intended primarily as a check that the pesticide is being used correctly and to assist international trade in treated produce.