EU rules setting harmonised Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) for pesticides have come into force today (Monday 1 September), despite opposition from green groups.

Their introduction is aimed at removing the confusion associated with dealing with 27 lists of national MRLs, which were allowed under the previous regime.

Up until today, different MRLs could apply to the same pesticide for the same crop in different member states.

“The new rules apply the principle that food produced or imported in one member state must be safe for consumers in all of them,” says EU health commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

“They ensure that pesticide residues in food are as low as possible and have no harmful effects.”

The regulation covers approximately 1100 pesticides and takes all consumer groups into consideration, including babies, children and vegetarians, he adds.

But green groups across Europe were united in their condemnation of the new rules and threatened legal action.

Claiming that the change ‘violated food safety’ by exposing consumers to unacceptable levels of contamination, two environmental groups have lodged an appeal at the Court of First Instance.

They questioned the mechanism by which the new limits were devised and urged further consideration of any cumulative effects of pesticides on human health.

And a study published by Greenpeace at the same time found that almost 700 of the MRLs in fruit and vegetables were too high. The study singled out apples, pears, grapes, tomatoes and sweet peppers as those with an unacceptable level of contamination.

The Commission dismissed the findings of the Greenpeace study, saying that they were based on outdated and imprecise information.

But it confirmed its intention to examine every study bought to its attention and agreed to seek expert opinion if evidence emerged to show that any limits weren’t safe.