The Food Standards Agency aims to ensure that food safety is given priority when the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD), which is responsible for UK policy on pesticides, authorises and monitors pesticides. The Agency also ensures that the expert committees that give advice about pesticides take full account of the public’s concerns about the safety of food.
The Agency accepts the use of pesticides in the production of food as long as:
- regulatory bodies follow a precautionary approach when approving the use of pesticides
- independent scientific advice says that the safety of pesticides is within acceptable limits
- acceptable levels can be set for residues in food
- enough good-quality information is available to the regulatory bodies on which to base these decisions
The Agency considers that current levels of pesticide residues in the UK food supply do not present a significant concern for human health.
Chemicals Regulation Directorate
The Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) is part of the Health and Safety Executive. It is responsible for registration and approval of plant protection products used in agriculture, horticulture and gardens in Britain. Parallel regulatory arrangements are in place in Northern Ireland.
The CRD also provides the secretariat for the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP), which advises on the authorisation and control of pesticides, and for the Defra Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF), which oversees a programme to monitor the UK food and drink supply for pesticide residues. The Food Standards Agency attends both these committees as officials. The CRD also works closely with the Food Standards Agency to protect consumer interests in relation to food safety and standards.
You can find out more about pesticide regulations on the CRD website.
Authorisation of pesticides
Pesticides are regulated to make sure they don't present unacceptable risks to the public, to people who apply them, to the environment or to animals. In the UK pesticides are assessed by Government departments and an independent scientific committee of experts, the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP). The FSA attends ACP meetings as officials. Government ministers must approve all pesticides before they can be marketed or used in the UK.
Rigorous safety assessments are undertaken to make sure that any pesticide residues remaining in the crop will not be harmful to people.
Any company wanting to get a pesticide approved must submit an application containing information on any potential health and environmental risks. This always includes data on the potential of the pesticide to cause cancer and damage human reproduction. The company must also supply information on how effective the pesticide is, whether impurities are present, and whether it's safe for the people who will be applying it, the environment and animals.
Pesticides are also reviewed regularly and if a review highlights any areas of concern then more data may be sought, or the approval may be modified or withdrawn completely.
Further information on the regulation of pesticides in the UK can be found in the annual reports of the ACP, which are available on the ACP website.
Surveillance of pesticide residues
Pesticide residues in food and drink in the UK are monitored through an official surveillance programme conducted by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) and overseen by the Defra Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF).
The results of the surveillance are published quarterly and annually by PRiF. If the surveillance indicates a potential concern about intakes of pesticides by consumers, a risk assessment is carried out by CRD experts and any necessary follow-up action taken by CRD, overseen by PRiF.
The FSA advises PRiF on surveillance and checks CRD risk assessments of high residue findings, to ensure that consumer interests and food safety are maintained. The FSA will also take action in the interests of consumer safety, if appropriate, for example working with local authorities to withdraw affected foods from the market.
PRiF provides independent advice to ministers as well as to the CRD and the FSA on matters relating to the surveillance programme for pesticides residue in the UK food supply.
Full details of the PRiF, including surveillance monitoring, annual reports and news releases, can be found at the link below. For more information please contact:
Chemical Risk Assessment Unit
Food Standards Agency
Room 3B, Aviation House
London WC2B 6NH
Tel: 020 7276 8523
Mixtures of pesticides
At the request of the Food Standards Agency, the independent Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) considered the risk assessment of multiple residues of pesticides and similar substances, and of multiple sources of exposure to these substances. COT produced a report on this work in 2002.
The report concluded that the risk to people’s health from mixtures of residues is likely to be small, and that children and pregnant or breastfeeding women are unlikely to be more affected by the ‘cocktail effect’ than most other people. The report recommended approaches that should be taken to the risk assessment of mixtures of pesticides. It also made a number of research recommendations.
The Agency currently funds research to address these recommendations. In 2011, COT considered the results of the research programme to date and other actions that had taken place to address other recommendations. It produced a statement, which is available below.
More in this section
Wednesday 2 May 2012
The Agency recognises that consumers want pesticide residues reduced further than the current safe levels. As part of the Agency's action plan to minimise pesticide residues in food, guides have been produced on five crops grown in the UK (apples, pears, cereals, potatoes and tomatoes).
Monday 14 May 2012
Frequently asked questions about pesticides and pesticide residues.