Imported food from outside the EU, Norway and Iceland is five times more likely to exceed pesticide residue limits, according to a new report.
The non-compliance rate of food imported from third countries into the EU was 7.5% compared to 1.4%, a European Union report on pesticide residue levels in food showed.
However, the report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found that more than 98% of 78,000 EU foods tested fell within permissible residue levels of pesticides permitted in the EU.
More than 54% of samples were free from any detectable trace of chemicals.
The Crop Protection Association (CPA) said the findings of the report were “good news” for consumers, farmers and the crop protection industry in the UK.
Nick von Westenholz, CPA chief executive officer, said: “We are fortunate in the UK to have highly skilled operators committed to the responsible use of pesticides and this contributes to the high levels of food safety that we enjoy in the UK.
“Pesticides are the most heavily regulated products in Europe. It currently takes around 10 years, costing £150m, to bring an active ingredient to market.
“This regulatory process, involving rigorous scrutiny by independent scientific experts, coupled with high standards of stewardship promoted by the Voluntary Initiative (VI), ensures plant protection products are safe for consumers, for the people who use them and for the environment.”
The industry would continue to strive to improve standards through schemes such as the VI, he added.
“Even for the very small amount of samples found to have exceeded the legal limits, consumers should rest assured that the presence of residues are unlikely to have any long-term effect on consumer health,” Mr von Westenholz said.
“Pesticides play a key role in helping farmers produce high-quality, healthy and affordable food. Regular monitoring studies such as this are crucial in reassuring consumers that they can trust farmers and have confidence in the safety of their produce.”
EFSA also carried out an assessment of whether current dietary exposure to pesticide residues presented a risk to human health – both in the long-term (chronic) and short-term (acute).
The authority concluded that the presence of pesticide residues in food in 2012 was unlikely to have a long-term effect on consumer health.
For short-term exposure to pesticide residues, a risk could not be excluded for about 0.02% of the samples if these foods were eaten in high quantities.