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MILAN (Reuters) - Pesticide residues found in food in the European Union fell in 2009 compared with 2008 thanks to tightening of safety rules and changes in patterns of pesticide use in Europe, EU's food safety agency said on Tuesday.
Compliance with the legal maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in food rose to 97.4 percent of the analyzed samples in 2009, up by about one percentage point from 2008, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said.
Based on current knowledge, long-term exposure to residues detected in major foods that make up the European diet would not raise health concerns, EFSA said.
Even a level of pesticides in food at a level exceeding the MRLs does not necessarily imply a safety concern, EFSA said in a statement on its annual pesticide residues report for 2009.
In the EU-coordinated part of the monitoring program, which is run alongside national programs, 61.4 percent of samples were free of measurable pesticide residues.
The samples that exceeded MRL under the EU-coordinated program fell to 1.4 percent in 2009 from 4.4 percent in 2006, the last time the same food commodities of plant origin were analyzed under the EU-coordinated program, EFSA said.
The improvement is due partly to the more effective use of legislation that compels producers and other industry players to implement safety systems as well as to changes in the pattern of pesticide use in Europe, EFSA said.
Harmonization of MRLs, which came into force in September 2008, may have also contributed to the improvement, the Parma-based agency said.
Risks to consumers from short-term acute exposure to pesticide residues in food are unlikely based even on worst-case scenarios, such as consumption of large portions of a food item containing the highest recorded residue, it said.
A potential risk could not be ruled out for only 77 samples out of the 10,553 samples taken in the EU-coordinated program.
MRLs were more often breached in samples from countries outside the European Economic Area (6.9 percent of samples) than in those from the EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, (1.5 percent of samples), EFSA said.
Reporting countries, which included all EU member states as well as Iceland and Norway, analyzed nearly 68,000 samples of food commodities for 834 pesticides for the report.
The types of food commodities analyzed rose to about 300 in 2009 from just under 200 in 2008, EFSA said.
Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Jane Baird