How many pesticide residues are really in our food?


A report published at the end of September by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK highlights the fact that, according to government data, over 5% of food sampled in 2005 carried unsafe levels of pesticide residues.

Concerned that the government’s own Pesticide Residues Committee (PRC) report for 2005 will not alert the public to instances where their safety is compromised, PAN UK has published an ‘Alternative Residues Report’, which shows that more rigorous safety checks are needed to allay consumers’ concerns about pesticide residues in their food.

The Pesticide Residues Committee usually focuses its analysis on legal limits of pesticides in food (the Maximum Residue Level – MRLs), generally set by the EU. But consumers might be surprised to learn that MRLs do not actually relate to how safe the pesticide is.

When PAN UK compared residues levels with the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD, the safety limit set for consumption within one day) they found it was exceeded in 97 cases, indicating that there could be an appreciable health risk to the consumer. These samples were, typically, at levels of 100-500%, but in one sample reaching 1600% of
the ARfD.

The data from 2005 showed that around 1.6% of fresh produce contained pesticides at levels that could result in consumption
above the internationally-agreed safety levels and that anyone who eats large quantities of fruit and vegetables might expect to exceed the safe intake five or six times a year.

PAN UK’s report also suggested that the PRC’s assertion that the MRL is set ‘well below levels which could be of concern for consumers’ is far from true. Out of the 36 pesticides looked at, 19 had an MRL that is above the safety level for one or more food. Since they only concentrated on seven foods, there are likely to be many more pesticide/food combinations where MRLs are not well below safety levels.

More at


Click here for more research on pesticides

First Published in January 2007

Top of page