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Maximum Residue Levels of pesticides   
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Maximum Residue Levels of pesticides
Publication Date: 15 marzo 2007    

Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are the upper legal levels of a concentration for pesticide residues in or on food or feed. MRLs are set for a wide range of food commodities of plant and animal origin, and they usually apply to the product as put on the market (e.g. oranges including the peel or stone fruit including the stones). MRLs are not simply set as toxicological threshold levels, but they are derived after comprehensive assessment of the properties of the active substance and the residue behaviour on treated crops. An indispensable precondition for setting MRLs is the performance of a risk assessment to ensure consumer safety.


Since 1976 harmonized legal provisions for pesticide residues in food, the so-called Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), have been established at EU level.
European MRL legislation is based on four Directives:
 
Currently, approximately 250 pesticides are covered by European MRL legislation for various pesticide/commodity combinations. More background information on MRLs, including lists of substances for which EU MRLs have been set, is available from the European Commission’s DG Sanco:  http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/protection/pesticides/index_en.htm.
 
For those pesticide/commodity combinations where no EU MRL exists, the situation is not harmonized and the Member States may (subject to satisfying their legal obligations under the EU Treaty) set MRLs at national level to protect the health of consumers. According to  Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005 a full harmonization for all pesticide MRLs is envisaged.
 
 
Pesticide MRL harmonisation programme
 
The European Commission is currently taking forward a food standards programme which strives to achieve the harmonisation of the remaining 900 pesticides which could potentially be present as residues on food, based on Article 22 of Regulation (EC) No. 396/2005. According to this legislation, the harmonized MRLs should be based on existing national provisions in place in EU Member States.
 
The European Commission compiled a list of the national MRLs for non-harmonised substances. The list is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/protection/resources/publications_en.htm#residues.
 
As many of these pesticides are no longer used in agriculture either within or outside the EU, the Commission considered it appropriate to set MRLs for these essentially obsolete compounds at the lowest possible level. The Commission will therefore propose to set MRLs for around 660 obsolete pesticides at the limit of determination, which is the lowest level surveillance laboratories can achieve in monitoring analysis.
 
For around 240 remaining compounds, which are still in use either in or outside the EU, Member States have established specific national MRLs. These are now subject to the European harmonisation programme, which in the first instance involves establishing temporary European level MRLs for these substances. The temporary MRLs will be subject to a detailed scientific assessment leading to the establishment of final EU MRLs following a comprehensive assessment of the active substances.
 
See: Reasoned opinion on the potential chronic and acute risk to consumers’ health arising from proposed temporary EU MRLs