Guide

Controls on chemicals in food

Pesticides and food safety

The use of pesticides in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and domestic gardening is regulated by the Chemical Regulation Directorate (CRD) - part of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Regulation of chemicals

The CRD:

  • regulate pesticides in accordance with national and European requirements
  • actively monitor the marketing and use of pesticides and take enforcement action where necessary
  • provide operational policy advice to government ministers

The CRD aims to ensure that pesticides are safe for people and the environment. They do this by regulation, encouraging best practice and researching into alternative pest control methods. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) works closely with CRD to make sure that consumer safety is given priority in pesticide regulation and surveillance.

Use of pesticides in the UK must be approved by government ministers and monitored through official programmes.

Pesticide residue levels

Rigorous safety assessments are undertaken to make sure that any pesticide residues remaining in food are not harmful to people. Residues are controlled through a system of statutory Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs).

The MRL is the maximum amount of residue likely to remain in food products when a pesticide has been used correctly. It is expressed as milligrams of residue per kilogram of food product. Before being approved for use, a pesticide must be proven to be completely safe for human consumption at its MRL - and may be safe at much higher levels.

Farmers, importers, distributors and retailers are responsible for ensuring marketed food complies with all statutory MRLs set. National authorities are responsible for control and enforcement of the MRLs. Checks entail taking samples, analysing them and identifying the pesticides and respective pesticide levels present.

In the UK, the Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) oversees the surveillance programme for residues in both home produced and imported food.

The purpose of this monitoring is to check that:

  • no unexpected residues occur in crops
  • human dietary intakes of residues in foods are within acceptable levels
  • pesticide residues do not exceed the statutory MRL