Evaluation of presence in food and the environment

All authorised plant protection products can be sold and applied to crops so that in one way or another they end up in our food or in the environment.

Follow-up is provided through residue control in food and water monitoring. This control and monitoring is the responsibility of the regions (for water) and the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain (for food).

Monitoring studies are sometimes published, demonstrating the presence of plant protection products in the environment, the human body or food.

It is important to realise that there are no longer any (federal) standards for the presence of plant protection products in the human body, in wildlife or in the environment in general.  It is therefore impossible to take action against the presence of these products per se, unless it can somehow be demonstrated that their presence causes negative effects.

Residues in food

At European level and with our cooperation we set, for each active substance and each foodstuff, the amount of residues that may remain as a result of the use of plant protection products. A maximum residue limit (MRL) is defined for this purpose. We check this MRL extensively, in cooperation with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and with the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain.

The MRL represents the maximum amount that can be found after application of the product in accordance with the directions for use. MRLs are therefore mainly used to check whether farmers comply with the authorisations of plant protection products and whether, for example, they are using prohibited products, overspraying or treating bad crops. The MRL is always sufficiently low to ensure that food is safe for consumption in the long term.

The detailed and systematic sampling and analysis carried out by the Federal Agency for Food Safety shows that most (about 95%) foodstuffs comply with the MRLs. This means that the majority of farmers follow the instructions for use carefully and respect the maximum rate, the maximum number of applications allowed, the pre-harvest interval and any other restrictions. The auctions will also carry out analyses to check whether this is the case before placing the harvested plant products on the market.

The European Food Safety Authority publishes the national results annually in summary reports and also analyses the potential impact on public health. This impact has always been considered low to date.

Residues in water

The Regions analyse pesticide levels in surface and groundwater. The Regions are responsible for monitoring water, both surface water, to monitor quality from an environmental point of view, and the water used in the production of drinking water, to guarantee quality for the consumer. We are working with producers to reduce the surface water pollution.

The results of the analysis are compared with the standards to determine whether restrictive measures are required. For surface water, there are federal authorisation standards for each active substance. If the standards are regularly exceeded, the authorisation will be adapted or withdrawn.

Surface water is also subject to regional standards. In cooperation with the Regions, we are working towards the harmonisation of these standards on the one hand, and compliance with them on the other, despite the lack of a legal basis for federal measures.

In Belgium, it is mainly groundwater that is used as drinking water, although surface water is also used. Fixed standards apply to drinking water, i.e. 0.1 µg/l for each active substance and 0.5 µg/l for the total amount. However, for mineral water, separate legislation is in force stipulating that it must be totally free of all pollution.