More to do if EU is to reach zero pesticide pollution target, says EEA

2 May 2023 | Muriel Cozier

Analysis from European Food Safety Agency indicates pesticide residues on the majority of foods are within safe limits.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has said that more needs to be done if the European Union is to achieve its zero pollution targets for pesticides and reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030.

The call comes in a new briefing document: How pesticides impact human health and ecosystems in Europe, which proposes best practice to reduce pesticide use and risk across Europe without impacting food supplies.

While the briefing indicates that pesticide sales across the EU Member States remained stable, at around 35,000 tonnes/year from 2011 to 2020, one or more pesticides were detected above thresholds of concern, deemed a risk to human health. These raised levels, which relate to 2020, were found at 22% of all rivers and lakes monitored, across Europe. When it came to soils, 83% of agricultural soils tested in 2019 contained pesticide residues.

While the European Commission has proposed new regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides, which would require Member States to set their own national reduction targets, amongst other measures, the EEA said: ‘It will also be critical to promote the shift to alternative models of agriculture that apply ecological concepts and principles to agriculture production.’

In a separate development, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has released its latest report on pesticide residues in food. The 2021 European Union report on pesticide residue in foods found that of 87,863 food samples collected and tested, 96.1% of them fell within legally permitted levels for pesticide residues. A subset of 13,845 samples analysed as part of the EU-coordinated control programme, found that 97.9% of samples were within legal limits. Analysis also showed that 2.1% of samples contained residues exceeding the permitted levels. The EFSA pointed out that the same selection of products are sampled every three years, making it possible to identify any change in trends.

The EFSA said: ‘The report suggests that the food commodities analysed in 2021 are unlikely to pose a concern for consumer health.’ The report contains a number of recommendations to increase the efficiency of European control systems for pesticide residues.

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