From 1 September 2008, the maximum legal limits on the level of pesticides allowed in food items sold in the EU will dramatically increase. Dietary exposure to pesticides is set to rise while many residue limits will become unsafe for consumers. The development follows new legislation from the European Commission intended to harmonise food standards across the EU.
Concerned at the growth in dietary exposure to pesticides, Natuur en Milieu, and PAN Europe, an umbrella group of European health and environmental organisations, have issued a legal challenge to the new legislation. ‘The Commission has failed to deliver on its obligation to set legal limits at the lowest achievable level’, said Hans Muilerman, spokesperson for Natuur en Milieu. ‘There is also no consideration of the cumulative effects that pesticides have on human health. Legal action is now necessary to force the Commission to think again.’
A joint analysis by Greenpeace/ Global 2000 published today, shows that several hundred residue limits are unsafe under the new legislation – according to the EU’s own safety standards and methodologies. In particular the consumption of apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes and peppers could now pose health risks for children. ‘By raising the legal limits the European Commission expects us to put up with more and more pesticides in our food. Children should be safe to eat as much fruit and vegetables as they like. The EU must revise these unsafe residue limits immediately,’ demanded Greenpeace chemicals expert, Ulrike Kallee.
Others challenge the manner in which the new limits were established. ‘For each pesticide, the Commission identified the country with the worst safety limit and then sought to adopt this level as the new EU-wide standard’, explained Elliott Cannell, Coordinator of PAN Europe. ‘European consumers will now receive a much lower level of protection from dietary exposure to over 200 different pesticides.’
Food items sold in Europe contain 349 different pesticides. Approximately half of all food items are contaminated, while over 5% of fruits, cereals and vegetables contain 5 or more pesticides.
Notes to Editors
Food safety violations
A joint analysis by Greenpeace/ Global 2000 published today shows that several hundred residue limits are now unsafe for consumers – according to the EU’s own safety standards and methodologies. A full copy of the study can be downloaded from www.greenpeace.de
Legal limits are escalating
On 29 May, Global 2000 published a study which compared existing Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) in Austria with the incoming EU MRLs. Whilst 4% of MRLs were shown to decrease, 65% of MRLs will rise from between 1.65-fold to 1000-fold of the current legal maximum. www.global2000.at/download/file5013.pdf
PAN Europe’s legal challenge
On 11 August, PAN Europe filed an appeal to the Court of First Instance in an attempt to force the Commission to rethink Commission Regulation 149/2008 which establishes the new MRLs. PAN Europe says the Regulation is fundamentally flawed and should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. For more information, visit www.pan-europe.info
Pesticides in the EU food chain
In total 349 different pesticides are present in food products sold in the EU. Some 45.7% of food items tested contains pesticides. Over 25% of fruits, cereals and vegetables contain two or more different pesticides, while over 5% of fruits, cereals and vegetables contain 5 or more different pesticides.
No delivery on high standards
In 2005, the European Parliament and the Council agreed Regulation 396/2005 stating that new MRLs ‘should be set at the lowest achievable level consistent with good agricultural practice’. Yet for each pesticide the Commission identified the country with the worst safety limit and sought to adopt this level as the new EU-wide standard.
No cumulative assessment
Regulation 396/2005 also states that the new MRLs should take into account cumulative and synergistic effects, when the methods to assess such effects are available. Numerous methodologies do exist to enable cumulative and synergistic assessments. Yet these factors have not been taken into account in formulating the new MRLs.