Glyphosate Facts

Transparency on safety aspects and use of glyphosate-containing herbicides in Europe

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Fact Sheet

Residual Traces of Pesticide Residues including Glyphosate Residues in Food on the European Market
[Based upon the 2012 European Union Report on Pesticide Residues in Food published by the European Food Safety Authority1]
 
1. The report prepared by EFSA reflects the results of control activities for pesticide residues in food carried out in 2012 in 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway).  
2. In 2012 more than 78,390 samples of more than 750 different food products were tested for approximately 800 different pesticides.
 
EU Coordinated Programme
3. The programme was designed to generate statistically representative data to serve as indicators of the rate of MRL2 exceedance in food of plant and animal origin on the European common market and that could be used to estimate actual consumer exposure of the European population.
4. The programme involved analysis of samples of 12 different food products for 205 different pesticides. Some 0.5 % of the 10,235 samples were found to be non-compliant with the legal limits (MRLs) when measurement uncertainty was taken into account. In 59.9 % of the samples (6,771 samples), no residues were detected (residues if present were below the limit of quantification).
5. The most frequently detected pesticides in plant products were bromide ion (16.1 %), glyphosate (12.2 %), chlormequat (9.68 %) and dithiocarbamates (10.5 %). EFSA acknowledged that the results for glyphosate and chlormequat are biased as the monitoring was requested only for those commodities where these pesticides are mainly used. Of the 635 samples analysed for glyphosate, 78 (12.2% 3) contained detectable residues but none contained residues in excess of the MRLs:
 

 

Total samples

Total detections

MRL exceedances

% detections

All

635

78

0

12.2%3

Cauliflower

110

1

0

0.9%

Wheat

393

77

0

16.4%

Others *

132

0

0

0%

* others = aubergines; bananas; broccoli; peas (without pods); peppers; table grapes; olive oil; orange juice

 
6. Residual traces of glyphosate were detected in one of 110 cauliflower samples analysed (0.9%) and in 77 of 393 wheat samples analysed (16.4%). In all cases the residual traces detected were lower than the MRLs for glyphosate, the level found in cauliflower (0.09 mg/kg) amounted to 91% of the MRL while the highest level found in wheat (3.2 mg/kg) was 32% of the MRL.
 
National Programmes
7. In general, the national control programmes were risk based, focussing on products which are likely to contain pesticide residues or for which MRL infringements were identified in previous monitoring programmes. National control programmes reflect the importance of food products in trade or in the national diets, include products with high residue prevalence or non-compliance rates in previous years, as well as reflecting the use pattern of pesticides and laboratory capacities. The results of the various national control programmes are not directly comparable.
8. The scope of national monitoring programmes differed significantly with regard to the number of pesticides analysed (analytical scope) and the number of different food products analysed. Overall the national control programmes covered almost 800 residue definitions. On average, samples were analysed for 203 different pesticides; Ireland, Luxembourg, Sweden and Germany analysed on average more than 270 pesticides per sample. 
9. In total 78,390 samples were taken. Of the total, 70,870 samples were surveillance samples while the remainder were enforcement samples, thus targeting products that were expected to be non-compliant with the legal limits.
10. In 2.9 % of the samples, the legal limits were numerically exceeded for one or more pesticides (2,308 samples). Overall, 54.9 % of the samples were free of detectable residues; in 26.1 % of the samples two or more pesticides were present simultaneously. Taking only surveillance samples into account (excluding targeted samples that are expected to be non-compliant), 2.2 % of the samples analysed in 2012 contained residues exceeding the MRLs. In the case of glyphosate, some 9 samples of dry lentils were found to contain residues in the range 0.84 to 10.5 mg/kg, levels that exceeded the MRL for glyphosate in lentils (0.1*). The import tolerance for glyphosate in lentils (10 mg/kg) had not been established in 2012.
11. An MRL exceedance rate above average for unprocessed products was noted for products that were subject to increased import control levels such as basil, okra, grapefruit, celery leaves and tea leaves. MRL exceedance rates above average were also observed for leafy vegetables and fresh herbs (e.g. parsley, rucola, chard, lamb’s lettuce), legume vegetables (peas with pods and beans with pods), and certain tropical fruits and vegetables (papaya, pomegranates, mangoes, yams, pineapples).
 
Dietary Exposure and Risk Assessment
12. EFSA calculated both short-term and long-term dietary exposure and estimated the consumer health risks resulting from pesticide residues in and on food.
13. In acute or short-term exposure assessment, intake of pesticide residues via food consumed within a short period of time, usually within one meal or one day, was estimated. Chronic or long-term exposure assessment, to quantify pesticide intake by consumers over a long period, predicting lifetime exposure, was also estimated.  A comparison of the estimated chronic and acute dietary exposure with the relevant toxicological reference values for long-term and short-term exposure (i.e. the acceptable daily intake (ADI) and the Acute Reference Dose (ARfD), respectively, give an indication as to whether or not consumers are exposed to pesticide residues that may pose a health risk.  Based on current scientific knowledge, as long as dietary exposure is lower than or equal to the toxicological reference values, a consumer health risk can be excluded.  However, if the calculated exposure exceeds the toxicological reference values, a more refined calculation must be performed to verify that the food poses a health concern (e.g. more realistic estimations of residues in edible part of the crop such as exposure to residues present in the edible part of oranges without peel). Where the refined exposure calculation exceeds the ARfD or the ADI, possible adverse effects on consumer health cannot be ruled out.
14. The setting of an ARfD was not necessary for 40 substances included in the EU-coordinated monitoring programme, one of which was glyphosate, because of the low acute toxicity of the substances concerned.  These pesticides are therefore not relevant for acute exposure assessment.
15. No quantifiable residues were reported for 24 pesticides   in any of the crops/food products considered in the chronic exposure assessment. Thus, long-term exposure is considered negligible for these pesticides.
16. For a further 161 pesticides, the estimated long-term exposure accounted for less than 10 % of the ADI, among them glyphosate (0.63% of the ADI). Based on current scientific knowledge it is concluded that no long-term risk is expected for these pesticides.
17. For eight pesticides the exposure was above 10 % of the ADI. Taking into account the overall conservative approach inherent in the dietary exposure calculations, EFSA concluded that dietary exposure was in a range that is not likely to pose a consumer health concern.
18. For nine pesticides, none of which are authorized for use in Europe, measurable residues were detected in food but a long-term dietary risk assessment could not be performed as internationally agreed toxicological reference values are not available for these compounds. The presence of residues of them in food may be due to the persistence of the pesticides in the environment or due to their use in third countries. Consumer exposure to these pesticides was calculated to be low.
19. Overall, EFSA concluded that based on the results of the 2012 monitoring programmes, long-term exposure to the pesticides included in the EU-coordinated monitoring programme (including glyphosate) for which toxicological data are available was not likely to pose a consumer health concern. For the nine pesticides without reliable toxicological assessments where detectable residues were reported sporadically, a consumer health concern cannot be fully excluded, but considering the inherent conservatism of the calculation and the low exposure estimates a consumer health risk was not very likely.
 
 
A maximum residue level (MRL) is the highest level of a pesticide residue that is legally tolerated in or on food or feed and reflects the amounts likely to be present at harvest, following storage, at slaughter, or following processing, following authorized use.   MRLs are trading standards, not health or safety standards. 
3 Figure 2-2 of the EFSA Report on page 12 erroneously lists the detection rate as 10.9%
4 aldicarb, amitrole, azinphos-ethyl, benfuracarb, bixafen, endrin, EPN, ethoprophos, formothion, isocarbophos, isofenphos-methyl, isoprocarb, metconazole, methoxychlor, metobromuron, nitenpyram, phenthoate, phoxim, prothioconazole, pyrazophos, pyrethrins, resmethrin, rotenone, and triticonazole
5 carbofuran, methidathion, heptachlor, diazinon, pirimiphos-methyl, dieldrin, fipronil and chlorpyrifos
6 dicrotophos, diniconazole, ethirimol, hexachlorobenzene, hexachlorocyclohexane (alpha), hexachlorocyclo-hexane (beta), propargite, prothiofos and tetramethrin
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Last update: 29 June 2015