Pesticide residue testing for produce available in Malta
Plant Protection Products or as better known ‘pesticides’, cover a wide range of substances which have different uses in the agriculture sector. Controls are carried out to ensure that food placed on the market is in compliance with the permissible legal limits of pesticide residues. These limits are supported by scientific studies and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) evaluation, with the ultimate aim to safeguard consumers and the environment. The results of controls are evaluated and reported annually to EFSA.
In the last EFSA report, which describes the official control activities carried out for pesticides residues in European Union Member States (including Norway and Iceland) for 2017, Malta ranked seventh out of thirty reporting countries in terms of sampling frequency, with 31.5 samples per 100,000 inhabitants. The average for all European countries was 17.1 samples per 100,000 inhabitants.
Data evaluation for official controls activities submitted annually by all Member States, supports the analysis of pesticide occurrence data in the relevant food products consumed by European consumers. It also supports the assessment of the dietary risk in relation to the exposure of consumers to pesticide residues. Overall, 95.9% of the 88,247 samples analysed in 2017 fell within the legal limits. This percentage is also reflective of Malta’s results. EFSA further reported that the probability of European citizens being exposed to pesticide residue levels that could lead to negative health outcomes is low.
In 2017, around 80% of the products sampled by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) for pesticide residue testing resulted with no residues. Pesticide residue testing supporting the official control activities in Malta, is part of the pesticide residue monitoring on different fruit and vegetables and products of animal origin placed on the Maltese market. These product samples are inclusive of both local produced commodities, as well as imported commodities. The checks supporting the monitoring programme, reflect seasonality and vary annually as defined by legislative provisions.
EFSA reported that on comparison to 2016, a decrease in non-compliant samples was observed for Malta with only 2.4% of the samples of local origin tested being reported as exceeding Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), as compared to the 13.5% of the samples of local origin for 2016. The MRL is the highest amount of a pesticide residue or pesticide trace, which is legally permissible, set at EU level and following strict EU Regulations which are applicable to all the members of the EU. The MCCAA continuous to work closely with all stakeholders, including farmers, to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. Legal action is taken against those who place food on the market that is found to contain illegal amounts of pesticides residues.
Samples are taken from various points including Pitkalija, Farmer’s market, importers and distributors and shops, and analysed in accredited laboratories. In 2017, while an average of 126 different pesticide residues were analysed per sample, a total of 290 pesticides were sought for during the analysis. The amount of pesticides residues analysed, reflect the requirements of the EU coordinated multiannual control program. In addition, to the multiannual control programme requirements, controls falling under the National monitoring program are also performed on the basis on ongoing pesticides residue result evaluations. The 2017 pesticide residue testing results for samples of local origin also reported a decrease in the number of samples containing quantified residues which fall below the MRL or at the MRL from the 25.6% in 2016 to 7.1% in 2017.
Pesticide residue monitoring programmes for Malta are ongoing annually, supporting national and EU legislation to ensure compliance with MRLs and to assess consumer exposures to pesticide residues in and on food of plant and animal origin. The comprehensive analysis of the pesticides residue monitoring results provides evidence for the designing of subsequent monitoring programmes supporting a risk-based approach, in particular, amongst others, supporting targeted commodities for future risk-based national programmes.
The Authority was instrumental in the drawing up of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides covering the period 2019-2023, which supports measures of control, such as, controls of pesticides application equipment in use and also training requirements for professional users and distributors of such products amongst other provisions.
The plan was subject to extensive consultation of all stakeholders including farmers. The aim is to support measures which ensure that the use of such products does not affect negatively human health and the environment. In addition to reducing risk, the plan supports the reduction in use and in the dependence on use of such products, through the promotion of alternative techniques which make use of low pesticide-input strategies, such as integrated pest management techniques.