Answer to Written Question: Achieving the goal of ‘zero toxic substances by 2030’
(Source: European Parliament)
Answer given by Ms Kyriakides
on behalf of the European Commission
The safety of European consumers is a priority for the Commission. Food products placed on the EU market must comply with maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides that ensure that consumers are not exposed to harmful levels of pesticides.
Every active substance is assessed comprehensively for its toxicity and MRLs ensure that the application of pesticides complies with good agricultural practices and that the exposure of humans stays below the relevant toxicological reference values.
The default MRL of 0.01 mg/kg accounts for the sensitivity limits of the analytical techniques of enforcement laboratories across the EU. Analytical results below that default MRL indicate the absence of a substance and ensure that harmonised enforcement action can be taken by Member States. In analytical terms, a “genuine zero” level of any substance does not exist. Instead, a definition is required based on the sensitivity of the analysis, which depends on the substance, the food matrix (e.g. type of foodstuff) and the analytical methods available. In particular, the level defined as “technical zero” must be the lowest level that is needed to still be able to detect the presence of a substance obtained by an analytical method and distinguish it unambiguously from unspecific background findings coming from the food matrix or the analytical instruments themselves.
The EU Reference Laboratories for pesticide residues advise the Commission in this respect and provide technical information supporting the update of MRLs accordingly whenever this is needed.
 Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 February 2005 on maximum residue levels of pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin and amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC