Cumulative Risk Assessment

Cumulative Risk Assessment

State of play on the assessment of risks caused by the presence of multiple pesticide residues in food

The EU regulation on maximum residue levels (MRLs) in food stipulates that decisions on MRLs should take into account cumulative effects of pesticides when the methods to assess such effects become available. In addition, the regulation covering the placing of pesticides on the market stipulates that pesticides should have no harmful effects – including cumulative effects – on humans.

Over the past years the Commission has been working with the EU countries, EFSA and independent scientists on a methodology to take into account these cumulative effects.

EFSA published several opinions on the methodologies to calculate the cumulative risk recommending the use of a probabilistic calculation in the final assessment. These calculations will be performed on groups of pesticides for which effects might add up: cumulative assessment groups (CAGs). The methodology is based on the assumption that pesticides causing the same toxic effects in tissues, organs and physiological systems can produce joint, cumulative toxicity – even if they do not have similar modes of action.

EFSA has already established CAGs for substances with neurotoxic and thyroid effects and is currently working on the establishment of CAGs for other organs, tissues and systems.

Under a European research programme that involved researchers, scientists and regulators from fourteen countries and was coordinated by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment for the Netherlands (RIVM), a web based online tool (Acropolis) has been developed for the calculation of cumulative exposure to pesticides residues, in line with the requirements set out in the relevant EFSA Guidance document. This tool is currently being tested to assess its suitability for carrying out exposure assessments of multiple pesticide residues. If the initial assessments are successful, EFSA hopes to start progressively incorporating tests on cumulative risk assessment into its consumer exposure assessments that are conducted for the EFSA annual report on pesticides residues in food. The experiences gained in these tests will be used for further optimising the tool to ensure its fitness for purpose for taking into account cumulative effects of pesticides for regulatory purposes in future. Until then, there is however still a lot of more work to do, both by risk assessors and risk managers.

The project is being closely coordinated with the European Commission, which has established a working group with EU countries' experts, EFSA and RIVM to ensure that the project meets the needs of risk managers.

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