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Maximum Residue Limits (MRL)

MRL is the maximum concentration of a pesticide residue (expressed as mg/kg) that may be legally present in or on foodstuffs and animal feeds. MRLs are based on Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) data and are established on the basis of the highest residues expected when a pesticide product is applied in accordance with approved conditions of use (the GAP approach).

Under these arrangements the important point is that residue levels do not pose unacceptable risks for consumers. However, MRL are not safety limits as they are always set well below any toxicity thresholds. The safety limit depends on a number of factors. These include the properties of the pesticide, the amount of residue, amount of food being consumed, whether this is being consumed in a single meal or over a longer period and the consumers bodyweight. The short and long term effects of consuming a particular residue can differ.

The main role of MRLs is to regulate trade in treated food. They indicate that any pesticide was applied to crops or foodstuffs in accordance with the conditions of use set by Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) or their equivalents abroad.

The Independent Pesticides Residues Committee (PRC) monitors residues in foodstuffs in the UK. They adopt a risk-based approach to monitoring (targeting the foodstuffs most likely to contain residues). If monitoring programmes suggest that pesticides are not being applied in accordance with the approved conditions of use PSD will consider taking enforcement action. MRLs are reviewed regularly.

There is an ongoing EU programme to set harmonised MRLs for all combinations of pesticide and commodities. The UK always immediately implements the EU-set MRLs into UK legislation. However, where no EU MRL exists for the use of a pesticide on a commodity in the UK, then there may be a specific UK national MRL or national temporary MRL that applies.

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