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No risk of adverse health effects from pesticides in Danish food

Wednesday 08 May 19

Contact

Bodil Hamborg Jensen
Senior adviser
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 74 68

Contact

Elsa Ebbesen Nielsen
Senior adviser
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 75 27

Pesticide residues in food on the Danish market do not pose a risk of adverse health effects, according to an assessment from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. It is based on six years of data from the Danish pesticide control.

The National Food Institute has carried out an overall assessment of the results from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration's pesticide control for the period 2012-2017. Pesticide residues were more frequently present in fruits and vegetables compared to other foods that were included in the control (cereals, meat, baby foods and other processed foods).

Overall, more residues were found in imported samples compared to samples of Danish origin. In addition, samples with more than one residue were more frequently found among the imported samples.

"Our calculations show that Danish consumers can generally reduce their pesticide intake by about one third if they choose Danish commodities whenever possible. If you want to avoid pesticides in the diet, you can choose organically grown commodities, which are generally pesticide-free,” Senior Adviser Bodil Hamborg Jensen from the National Food Institute says.

Pesticide residues were not detected in 58.6% of the 13,492 samples, while 40% of the samples contained pesticide residues below the maximum residue levels (MRLs) set by the EU. Pesticide residues that exceed the MRLs were only found in 1.4% of the samples.

Risk assessment of cumulative dietary exposure 

The National Food Institute evaluates that there is no risk of adverse health effects for Danish consumers following cumulative dietary exposure to pesticide residues in food – even for high consumers  who eat the recommended 600 grams of fruit and vegetables daily, regardless of the origin of the commodities and whether they are conventionally or organically produced.

The institute’s experts performed the risk assessment of cumulative dietary exposure by the so-called Hazard Index (HI) method. The assessment includes toxicity data for all the detected pesticides, the average residue levels in the sampled foods and the average amount of the foods consumed.

An HI below 100% indicates that there is no risk of adverse health effects.

Moving towards less toxic pesticides

Compared with the previous period 2004-2011, the HI for 4-6-year-old children decreased from 44% to 36% and for adults from 18% to 13%, even though the cumulative dietary exposure to pesticides was almost the same for the two periods for both consumer groups.

"A decrease in the HI without a corresponding decrease in the exposure could be due to the fact that some of the more toxic pesticides detected in the previous period are no longer authorized for use and consequently the producers instead use less toxic pesticides," Senior Adviser Elsa Nielsen from the National Food Institute explains.

”Based on the risk assessment, the National Food Institute evaluates that there is no risk of adverse health effects for Danish consumers following cumulative dietary exposure to pesticide residues in food regardless of the origin of the commodities,” Elsa Nielsen says.

Read more 

A total of 13,492 samples of fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat, baby foods and other processed foods were analyzed as part of the Danish pesticide control in the period 2012-2017. The analyses were carried out by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’ laboratory in Ringsted. The samples were analyzed for up to 314 pesticides.

The assessment of the data from the period is described in the report: Pesticide Residues in Food on the Danish Market – Results from the period 2012-2017 (pdf). The data on which the assessment is based are published in four Excel spreadsheets on the National Food Institute's website: Pesticide exposure.

The focus of the report is solely on exposure to and risk assessment of pesticide residues in food on the Danish market. It is outside the scope of the report to perform risk assessments for other sources of pesticides as well as for combined exposure to all kinds of different chemicals, including pesticides.

The results from the Danish pesticide control are reported in annual reports from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and the National Food Institute, which build on quarterly control data. Both the annual and the quarterly reports are available from the National Food Institute’s website: Pesticides in the diet.

How to avoid pesticide residues

  • Pesticide residues are mainly found on the surface of fruits and vegetables and the amount in the edible part varies greatly.
  • In citrus fruits, melon and banana, about 90% of the pesticide content can be found on the peel/rind, so the pesticide intake can be significantly reduced by removing the peel/rind.
  • In some fruits, it is possible to wash off some of the pesticide residues. As such, up to half of the pesticide content in strawberries, grapes and apples can be washed off.
 
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9 DECEMBER 2019