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New rules on pesticide residues to ensure food safety - 03/09/2008

A tractor spraying crops with pesticides

From 1 September, new standards impose uniform limits on pesticide residues in food across the EU.

The new standards are intended to ensure consumer protection and ease trade and imports. “Food produced or imported in one member state must be safe for consumers in all of them,” health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou explained.

We are exposed to pesticides when small amounts left on harvested crops find their way into our food. Limits are set on these residues to minimise exposure and avoid unacceptable health risks.

The pesticide residues law covers about 1 100 pesticides used in agriculture in or outside the EU. It lists maximum residue levels for a wide range of products -- everything from meat, milk, vegetables and fruit to nuts, spices and animal feed. The limits apply to both fresh and processed products, adjusted for dilution or concentration.

Previously, the EU set limits for some pesticides while individual countries were responsible for others. Residues exceeding the limit in one country were acceptable in another, while for some pesticides, there were no limits at all. The lack of uniformity was confusing for traders and consumers alike.

The new limits take account of the needs of the most vulnerable groups, such as babies and children. An important principle is that food safety takes priority over plant protection.

EU governments are responsible for enforcing the law but the commission will monitor compliance. The limits for particular pesticides and crops can be found using the commission's online pesticide residue database.

Factsheet on pesticide residues

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