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Food Safety

Non-EU countries’ certification of compliance with EU Maximum Residue Levels for pesticides on food of animal origin

In respect of food of animal origin entering the Union, Non-EU countries are obliged to issue for each exported consignment, a commodity-specific health certificate. The model certificates to be used are laid down in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/2235 and these models must be used from 15 January 2022 for all such consignments exported to the EU. In respect of pesticides, the majority of these certificates contain the following attestation to be signed by the Non-EU country's competent authority:

I, the undersigned official veterinarian, declare that…..the meat (or product) has been produced under conditions guaranteeing compliance with the maximum residue levels for pesticides laid down in Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 and the maximum levels of contaminants laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006.

In order for a certifying officer to be in a position to sign that particular attestation, the Commission considers that guidance to Non-EU country food business operators and competent authorities may be helpful and indicate what could reasonably be expected to be in place in order for the attestation to be reliably signed by the competent authority, bearing in mind that:

  • Non-EU countries may authorise pesticides containing active substances which are not approved in the EU (the full EU list of approved and non-approved substances is publicly available here);
  • Non-EU countries may authorise pesticides containing active substances which are approved in the EU but for which the EU Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) – downloadable from here - are lower in the EU compared to the Non-EU country.
  • Active substances present in a pesticide may give rise to residues in animal products by three routes:
    1. The active substance is a dual use substance (i.e. is a veterinary medicine as well as a pesticide) – therefore residues are present in meat/milk due to use as a veterinary medicine;
    2. The active substance is present in a pesticide applied to crops/pasture and the crop/pasture has been fed to the animals in question;
    3. The animals and/or their products have been exposed to the active substance (e.g. as a result of pesticide drift or environmental contamination).
  • Food business operators have the primary responsibility for ensuring that what is exported to the EU, complies with the applicable MRLs in the EU.

What is expected from food business operators and competent authorities in Non-EU countries

The Commission expects that food business operators are aware of the pesticide MRLs established in the EU which apply to the commodity that they intend to export. They should also know whether active substances used in their country, which can give rise to residues in the commodity, are approved or not in the EU. To this end, operators should consult the publicly available EU pesticides MRL database.

Exporting operators (i.e. the food business operator responsible for the consignment to be exported) should be in a position to demonstrate in their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Plans, that they have taken steps to ensure that what they intend to export to the EU market does not contain residues of pesticides in excess of EU MRLs. HACCP principles are described in Regulation (EC) No 852/2004, in particular Article 5 and in the Codex Alimentarius General Principles of Food Hygiene, CXC 1-1969.

Such steps could include, where applicable:

  1. Instructions to the supplying farmers on the EU approval status of active substances of pesticides and their respective MRLs.
  2. Guidance on the application of traceability systems along the food chain.
  3. Training programmes for supplying farmers on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and traceability.

Competent authorities should therefore expect to see in the course of their official controls on exporting operators, at least the following:

  1. An annually updated list of pesticides not to be used on crops fed to livestock which has been timely disseminated to the operator’s supplying farmers;
  2. An annually updated list of pesticides which could be used on crops fed to livestock (i.e. the active substance is approved in the EU, or, if not approved, an EU MRL has been established) in accordance with Good Agricultural Practices, timely disseminated to farmers, but for which measures have been taken to minimise the quantity of the treated crop in the final feed so that the exported commodity would comply with the (lower) EU MRL (if that is the case).
  3. Regularly updated specifications for the animal commodity to be exported including the updated list of pesticides and EU MRLs.
  4. A programme of own-checks of the animal commodity to demonstrate compliance with the EU MRLs (e.g. ISO 17025 accredited analyses)
  5. Possibly a programme of own-checks of feed to verify that any commitments on non-use of certain pesticides made by the supplying farmers are respected (e.g. internal audits on farms, feed analyses).

Competent authorities should also have in place a separate residues monitoring programme for pesticides in food of animal origin, the results of which should help demonstrate that animal products intended for the EU market comply with the relevant MRLs. In this respect, competent authorities – and exporting operators - should take note of the latest version of the EU coordinated multiannual control programme, for 2022, 2023 and 2024 to ensure compliance with MRLs for pesticides and assess consumer exposure to pesticide residues in and on food of plant and animal origin.

In summary, this combination of exporting food business operator measures allied with a competent authority official control system providing oversight thereof should enable the competent authority to reliably sign the relevant attestation in the health certificates. Such systems will be subject to audit by the Commission’s Health and Food, Audits and Analysis Directorate to verify that they are fit for purpose. Please see the annual work programmes of the Directorate.