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Maximum Residue Limits Not a Health Standard but a Measure of Good Agricultural Practice

8 July 2009

The Sydney Morning Herald published a story recently with the headline ‘Consumers blind to toxic dangers at greengrocer’. The story indicated that 2.5% of fruit and vegetables tested in New South Wales contained pesticide residues that exceeded the maximum residue limit or contained residues not approved on the relevant crop.

Some commentators saw this as a failing of the system. One, for example, suggested that every household in NSW was likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of farm chemicals from a basket of fresh produce at least once a year.

This is not the case and indicates a level of confusion about the function of maximum residue limits (MRL). They are not a health standard, as suggested, but a measure of good agricultural practice.  Far from being a cause of concern, the Sydney Morning Herald story actually indicated that the chemical regulation system is working well.

Farmers use pesticides to help control pests and diseases. This improves productivity and ensures that the food that is produced meets consumer expectations in terms of quality, consistency and availability.  Sometimes, however, small amounts of pesticide residues can remain on the food.

Regulatory authorities determine the maximum level of residues on produce that is permitted. This is done through a comprehensive scientific process that identifies a safe level of dietary intake for each chemical. Once this level is established, the MRL is set using information following actual use of a product under Australian conditions. Often, the MRL includes a large safety buffer.

MRLs are used as a measure of good agricultural practice. They are legal standards. If one is exceeded, state authorities trace back the produce to the farmer to determine what improvements to practice need to take place.

That 97.5% of produce tested fell within the relevant MRL levels is a measure of the success, rather than the failure, of the chemical regulation system. It means that nearly all farmers were using chemicals responsibly.

Are people at risk of eating produce that has residues exceeding the MRL? No. There are such large safety margins built into the system to ensure that human health is protected.

Further information

For further comment contact:

Media Inquiries

Phone: +61 2 6210 4812
Mobile: +61 467 726 486
Email: media@apvma.gov.au

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