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Brussels, 24 June 2010

Pesticides: Food in the EU is now safer thanks to more controls and fewer and less harmful residues

Food in the European Union has become even safer over the past year thanks, in part, to the withdrawal from the market of harmful pesticides and the strengthening of the Union's border control activity. As of January this year, the EU has in essence established a common control border as regards certain fruits and vegetables. For these imported products a new control regime has been introduced, which provides that consignments are checked at the EU border before their entry into the Union. To witness how the system works in practice, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, visited today the Port of Antwerp and Mechelse Veilingen, a farm cooperative and vegetable auction close to Mechelen.

Commissioner Dalli said: "What I have seen today fully reassures me that the fruit and vegetables that reach our tables are safe. I am convinced that food safety "best practices" like those we have seen today are spreading across Europe and work silently towards the same objective: to provide EU citizens with safer and greener food." The Commissioner concluded: "Member States have allocated a considerable amount of resources to make the new system work. And it has been a success".

The onsite visits

The Antwerp-Mechelen trip gave Commissioner Dalli the opportunity to witness first hand the efforts of farmers and distributors to keep pesticide residues as low as possible. The two onsite visits verified that several layers of controls concerning pesticide residues are carried out before fruit and vegetables reach the EU citizens' tables. These controls are required by EU law and are combined with rigorous EU rules on pesticides.

Safer pesticides

The EU pesticide legislation is probably the strictest in the world and the EU has undertaken several important achievements to improve the level of consumer protection. Over the last two years the Commission harmonised the legislation on maximum residue levels of pesticides in food and feed and finalised the evaluation of pesticides on the market. This exercise led to the withdrawal of about 700 substances out of the original 10001.

Furthermore, the EU adopted stricter rules on pesticide approval in November 20092 and they will enter into force in June 2011. These rules concern carcinogens, mutagens and substances that are toxic for reproduction and endocrine systems. The new rules will not allow the approval of such substances unless exposure to humans is negligible.

Common control border

To ensure that the safety requirements are fully respected, thus guaranteeing a high level of consumer protection, an efficient control system must be in place. For this reason, controls are applied at all levels of the food chain, both on domestic and on imported products.

The EU rules3 introduced in January 2010 require an increased level of border controls on a number of imported fruit and vegetables. The actual controls are carried out by Member States' competent authorities and focus on a list of products of plant origin from certain third countries, for which reinforced surveillance is required. The list, which is subject to a quarterly review, contains products, such as Thai vegetables and tropical fruits from the Dominican Republic. Among other things, the new regime provides for documentary checks and analysis for pesticides on a large variety of fruit and vegetables, like mangoes, bananas, aubergines, courgettes and pears imported from specific third countries.

Concrete results

Since the introduction of this regime in January about 13600 consignments of imported fruit and vegetables were checked. Ten percent of these products were tested and 10% of the tested products were non-compliant with the relevant EU safety requirements. In Belgium, where today's onsite trip took place, during the first quarter of 2010, the national authorities checked more than 300 consignments of the listed fruit and vegetables. A few of them did not comply with EU requirements.

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1 :

For further information:

2 :

Reg. (EC) No 1107/2009, OJ L 309, 24.11.2009

3 :

Reg. (EC) No 669/2009, OJ L 194, 25.7.2009

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