Natasha Santos et al.

Food Safety and MRLs

Farmers all over the world, who grow fruit, vegetable or arable crops, have to keep them healthy and protect them from damage from many sources including pests (plant diseases, insects, and weeds). One important tool they have available for pest management and control is crop protection products, also known as pesticides. Both organic and conventional farmers use some type of crop protection to either keep pests from damaging their crops, or improve yields as well as keeping diseases out of the food chain12.
The majority of food that reaches our table does not contain any measurable pesticide residue.
The majority of food that reaches our table does not contain any measurable pesticide residue.
The majority of food that reaches our table does not contain any measurable pesticide residue. Regulatory authorities set standard that guarantee no health impacts, either for daily or lifetime consumption.

Crop Protection products are important to help farmers to grow safe, healthy and affordable food and people are increasingly interested about how their food is grown. This leads to questions on nutrition, environmental friendly practices and safety, such as pesticides residues in food. We should all be interested to know where our food comes from, to have a nutritious and healthy diet and to understand how much effort and commitment farmers put into producing food.

Crop Protection products are among the most thoroughly tested products in the world. Their safety for humans and the environment is reviewed by independent regulatory authorities before they are allowed to be used on crops. The authorities lay out very strict rules on data that needs to be provided before a product is approved. This involves years of testing to meet the highest human and environment safety standards. Regulatory agencies aim to ensure that products will not harm people, wildlife, or the environment when used according to the label.

The label shows how the product should be used, stored, handled and disposed of and farmers generally comply with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), i.e., "practices that address environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and result in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products" (FAO COAG 2003).

To ensure that the levels of crop protection products stay within safe limits, regulatory authorities define the legal limits as low as possible. Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are established individually for each pesticide (active ingredient) & crop and are driven by two key safety benchmarks, the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD)3:

– An ARfD refers to the maximum amount that can be ingested in a single day without any harm; and
– An ADI value refers to the maximum amount which can be consumed every day for a lifetime without harm.

However, as shown by food monitoring, the majority of the food that reaches our table does not contain any measurable pesticide residues4.

In other words, the standards take into account the amount of pesticides we can safely consume both daily and over our entire lifetime. These standards are always well below levels that could have any adverse effect on health. In general the lowest dose that could cause adverse effects is used, which is then reduced at least 100-fold to ensure fresh fruit and vegetables are safe.

Natasha Santos, Global Head of Crop Science Policy & Advocacy
Natasha Santos, Global Head of Crop Science Policy & Advocacy
Natasha Santos,
Global Head of Crop Protection Policy & Advocacy

Elizabeth Bates, Head of Dietary Safety Assessment
Elizabeth Bates, Head of Dietary Safety Assessment
Elizabeth Bates,
Head of Dietary Safety Assessment

Marcus Theurig, MRL and Global Trade Manager
Marcus Theurig, MRL and Global Trade Manager
Marcus Theurig,
MRL and Global Trade Manager
safety margins applied to the pesticide residue level
safety margins applied to the pesticide residue level

The maximum residue levels (MRL) are established for each crop and country of use. Countries that import crops also establish additional MRLs known as Import Tolerances for the foodstuffs they import. (a good example is one of the European consumer’s favorite fruits: the banana). These MRLs are set in the same way and they also comply with the same high data requirements and safety standards.

Harmonization of MRL levels is an important topic to ensure safe, affordable and nutritious food. International bodies, such as the OECD and WHO/FAO, (which look after food production and human health), and many national governments, have been working with farmers, food chain, consumers and the industry on MRL harmonization. At the same time it allows consumer choice, helps them stay healthy, while continuing to allow trade.

Bayer is committed to proactively foster open dialogue and transparency to ensure greater understanding of the safety standards required for crop protection products. To contribute to food safety, we engage with exporters and importers by helping farmers meet quality standards for trade. Through Bayer Sustainability and Food Chain Partnerships, training and certification schemes, we aim to implement best agricultural practices for food quality, food safety and traceability.

For more information please access:


1 Boxall RA. Post-harvest losses to insects – a world overview. Int. Biodeter. Biodegr. 2001;48:137–152.
2 Narayanasamy P. Postharvest Pathogens and Disease Management. John Wiley & Sons; New York, NY, USA: 2006.
3 For detailed information please access: http://www.ecpa.eu/reports_infographics/pesticide-use-and-food-safety
4 For more information please access EFSA monitoring documents (The 2016 European Union report on pesticide residues in food, Monitoring data on pesticide residues in food: results on organic versus conventionally produced food)

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Tiff Ting
March 04, 2019 - 06:51 AM

MRLs are a flawed way to determine the safety level of foods. Per Kristin Lawless's "Formerly Known as Food", toxicity needs to be tested additively rather than decrementally since very low levels of substances can have detrimental health impacts and disappear after exceeding a certain level.

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