Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs)

Residues are remnants of plant protection products which remain in or on our food, for example in fruit and vegetables, but also in products of animal origin. These residues must not entail any unacceptable health risks.Therefore, Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are established, at a level as low as reasonably achievable, taking into account good agricultural practices (GAP). Thus, MRLs are not health standards in the first place, but maximum limits that cover residue levels that may result from use of plant protection products in accordance with the legally authorised conditions. An exceedance of the MRLs does not necessarily mean that there is a problem for the consumer, but may indicate that a farmer has applied a too high dose or has sprayed too late in the season, for example. Foods which contain residues below the legally established MRLs are safe for consumers.

Since 1 September 2008, MRLs have been harmonised at the European level in Regulation 396/2005. You can find an overview of the applicable MRLs in the EU Pesticides Database. Here, MRLs can be looked up per active substance or per food item.

Establishing and updating MRLs is a continuous process. As such, in Regulation 396/2005, it is anticipated that all MRLs of a given active substance are reviewed within 12 months of the decision to approve, or not, the substance in question. This review of the existing MRLs was laid down in article 12.

A firm, a Member State, but also any party which can demonstrate that it has a legitimate interest in "health", can submit a request to establish an MRL. The procedure for establishing an MRL is laid down in articles 6 to 11 of Regulation (EC) No 396/2005. A similar procedure must be followed for requesting import tolerances.

At the global level, maximum residue limits are established by the Codex Alimentarius. These MRLs apply only in the EU if they are adopted in Regulation 396/2005.