Assessing the risk to people's health
Pesticide residue levels in treated crops and in animal products are regulated through the establishment of Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) at EU level. MRLs act as an indicator of the correct use of pesticides as specified on the label, and as trading standards for imported and exported food. When a residue is found above the MRL, the result does not automatically mean the levels of residue found are a risk to people’s health. Therefore, where an MRL is exceeded, a consumer risk assessment is conducted.
The two key safety benchmark values that are set by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and are used in the consumer risk assessment calculation are:
- The Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which is an estimate of the daily intake of the pesticide over a lifetime, which would have no harmful or adverse toxicological effects.
- The Acute Reference Dose (ARfD), which is the amount of pesticide in food that can be ingested in one day without harmful or adverse toxicological effects.
The consumer risk assessment considers:
- The amount eaten by different groups of people (infants, toddlers, young people, adults, vegetarians and the elderly) using Irish and EU consumption data.
- The effect of chronic exposure, that is, the level of exposure over a person’s lifetime and the likely effects on health of such exposure. The effects of chronic exposure to a pesticide residue are assessed through the estimation of the ADI for the pesticide.
- The effect of acute exposure, that is, the level of exposure likely over a single day and the likely effects on health of such exposure. Acute effects of exposure to a pesticide residue are assessed through the estimation of the ARfD for the pesticide.
- All estimations made include a safety factor to ensure that vulnerable groups such as infants, children, the elderly and those whose systems are under stress because of illness, are protected.
- The results of the assessment is provided to and independently verified by the FSAI.
- A Rapid Alert is issued when residues detected in food are considered to be harmful to the consumer and the produce is removed from the market and may be destroyed at the owner’s expense.