The latest Pesticide Residues Committee quarterly report has found that 61.1% of the 1247 samples of 24 different foods tested had no detectable pesticide residues.

Thirty-seven percent (36.9%) contained levels below the legally permitted maximum residues level (MRL). Two percent (25 samples) contained residues above the maximum permitted levels.

None of the breaches was likely to cause concern for people’s health, the report said.

“The majority of food sampled does not contain detectable residues or contains residues in accordance with the guidelines,” Ian Brown, chairman of the committee, said.

“The PRC have looked carefully at all of the exceedances of the MRL and published a full risk assessment. We are satisfied that the majority of the results give us no concern for consumer health.

“The results show 25 samples (2%) contained residues in excess of the maximum permitted levels. This is at the higher end our annual average value range of 1-2%. This is because during quarter four we report the results for more fresh produce and less processed produce.

“We have also targeted produce that is likely to contain pesticide residues.

“We have looked carefully at each of the exceedances and in all but one case the presence of these residues was unlikely to have resulted in any adverse health effects for consumers. The majority of these ‘exceedances’ are exceedances of MRLs set at the lowest level which can be routinely tested for because producers have not supplied information to set a higher level.

The results should reassure consumers that the food they eat continues to be safe, Dr Brown said. “It is important to stress that the positive effects of eating fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced healthy diet far outweigh any concern about pesticide residues.”

The PRC is an independent body which advises Government, the Food Standards Agency and the Pesticides Safety Directorate. Today’s results are part of a £2.2 million food and drink monitoring programme which takes place each year, and cover testing from October to December 2005.

The MRL, or maximum residue level, is the maximum concentration of a pesticide residue – expressed as milligrams per kilogram, or parts per million – legally permitted in or on our food and animal feeds.

The levels are not safety limits, but are set at levels which protect the consumer. They are primarily a check that good agricultural practice is being followed, and an MRL exceedance does not automatically imply a hazard to health.