The EU regulation on maximum residue levels (MRLs) in food stipulates that decisions on MRLs should take into account cumulative effects of pesticides when the methods to assess such effects become available. In addition, the regulation covering the placing of pesticides on the market stipulates that pesticides should have no harmful effects – including cumulative effects – on humans.
Over the past years the Commission has been working with experts from EU Member States and EFSA on a methodology to take into account these cumulative effects.
EFSA published several opinions on the methodologies to calculate the cumulative risk recommending the use of a probabilistic calculation performed on groups of pesticides for which effects might add up: cumulative assessment groups (CAGs). The methodology is based on the assumption that pesticides causing the same toxic effects in tissues, organs and physiological systems can produce joint, cumulative toxicity – even if they do not have similar modes of action.
The European Commission established a working group with Member States’ experts, EFSA and the Dutch National Institute for the Environment and Public Health (RIVM) to agree on those technical aspects of the methodology that are needed to make it fit for its gradual use for risk management purposes. In the Standing Committee for Plants, Animals, Food and Feed-Section Pesticide Residues (SCoPAFF) of 11-12 June 2015 and 18-19 September 2018, Member States agreed on a harmonised approach on the basic parameters concerning probabilistic calculations based on the results of the EU monitoring programmes (retrospective scenario). A summary of this approach can be found in the Technical Annex.
On 29 April 2020, EFSA delivered the first pilot reports assessing the cumulative risk to the combined exposure to pesticide residues with effects on the thyroid and the nervous system, based on the results of the EU annual monitoring programmes for pesticide residues (retrospective scenario) for the years 2014 - 2016. The reports can be found here and further updates with more recent monitoring data are planned.
In the recently published EU Chemicals Strategy, among the specific actions to be taken towards a toxic-free environment, the consideration of the combination effect of chemicals in risk assessment plays an integral role.
For pesticides, in the context of the REFIT exercise, it was concluded that the work on developing the method for Cumulative Risk Assessment for pesticide residues was more complex than initially expected and that work should be accelerated. The Commission and EFSA committed on developing an Action Plan to accelerate work on further developing the methodology towards gradually implementing it into regulatory practice. On 23 February 2021 at the Standing Committee for Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, Section Phytopharmaceuticals, Pesticide Residues, the EU Member States noted this Action Plan under document SANTE/10178/2021.
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