According to research on pesticide controls undertaken by DFHV, the German fruit trade association, and QS, a German fruit and vegetable company, the proportion of fruit and vegetables that have failed inspections as a result of high pesticide residues “has again fallen”. DFHV and QS reported that “around 98.9% of all fruit and vegetable samples examined showed pesticide residues well under the legal limit.” This 1.1% infringement, arising from over 16,400 samples from 65 countries, is 0.2% lower than in the previous year.
A more limited regional survey from the Stuttgart area, of 892 samples, found a similar downward trend in detection of maximum residue levels (MRLs) in excess of permitted levels, with infringement rates down from 7% in 2011 to 6.4% in 2012, and to 4.4% in 2013. This survey found a strong link between the country of origin and infringement levels, with an infringement level of 2.1% for German products, 2.3% for products from other EU countries, but 12.8% for “the samples from third countries” (i.e. non-EU).
The more comprehensive of the two German surveys suggests that there have been continued improvements in compliance with increasingly strict maximum pesticide residue levels, while the regional survey highlights the concentration of MRL infringements in products from outside the EU.
This suggests a need to increasingly target inspections in those areas where infringements are most common. While this is implicit in the “risk assessment” approach to inspections generally being promoted, the lower level of infringements over time suggests a need for even greater recognition of the progress being achieved, in determining the level of inspections to be carried out along particular supply chains.
This is particularly important in view of current proposals under the new EU regulation on official food and feed controls to move towards more rigorous inspection programmes and full recovery of costs for all official controls carried out (see Agritrade article ‘ New EU food and feed controls to include full cost recovery’, 7 July 2013).
At present, the indications are that there is a lack of consensus among EU governments on the EC proposals for the introduction of mandatory full recovery of costs and automatic exemptions for microenterprises. However, with EU member states such as the UK and Holland having already taken steps to introduce full cost recovery for all official controls, concerns have been raised that if there are large differences in the inspection fees charged by different member states, then trade may be diverted between member states.
It is unclear what effect substantial fee increases (e.g. an approximate increase of 250% in plant health inspection fees in the UK between January 2011 and January 2014 reported by the UK Fresh Produce Consortium) and the potential resulting trade diversion could have on different ACP fruit and vegetable exporting countries.
It is clear, however, that better targeting of controls could go a long way towards mitigating the trade consequences of moves towards full cost recovery for official controls carried out on imports. This could bring particular benefits to exporters with smaller volumes who are successfully implementing measures to improve both the design and implementation of pesticide and food safety controls. If such improvements could be more fully reflected in reduced charges for official controls, this could provide a real financial incentive for further investments to strengthen both private sector and official controls in exporting countries.
In the context of moves towards full cost recovery, better targeting of controls has been a long-standing demand of the UK Fresh Produce Consortium (see Agritrade article ‘ UK government economy measures could raise costs of horticultural imports’, 7 January 2012).