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Chemicals in food - maximum residue limits

(May 2017)

 

A maximum residue limit (MRL) is the highest amount of an agricultural or veterinary (agvet) chemical residue that is legally allowed in a food product sold in Australia whether it is produced domestically or imported.

MRLs help enforcement agencies monitor whether an agvet chemical has been used as directed to control pests and diseases in food production.

How are MRLs for food set?

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) registers and approves all agvet chemicals in Australia and sets MRLs for these chemicals. Levels are set based on how much of the chemical is needed to control pests and/or diseases. The product's chemistry, metabolism, analytical methodology and residue trial data are also assessed.

Limits are set using internationally recognized methods and national scientific data and are well below the level that could pose health and safety risks to consumers.

FSANZ’s role

FSANZ assesses agvet chemical residues in the diet and works closely with the APVMA on these assessments.

FSANZ is also responsible for considering requests to harmonise MRLs with international limits.

The MRL harmonisation process looks at how Australian MRLs can align with international limits. It recognises that there are differences in how agvet chemicals are used around the world due to different climates, pests and diseases.

The harmonisation process also supports our work with the World Trade Organisation.

Requests to harmonise MRLs must relate to limits set by Codex Alimentarius or other equivalent food regulatory agencies in the country in which the food commodity is produced. These requests are considered through our annual MRL harmonization process or through an application.

Who monitors and enforces chemical residue levels in food?

In Australia, state and territory food regulatory agencies monitor and enforce the Food Standards Code including MRLs. They undertake surveillance programs for agvet chemical residues in food and also monitor the use of agvet chemicals by food producers.

FSANZ also looks at chemical residues in Australian food through the Australian Total Diet Study (ATDS).

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources monitors foods imported into Australia to check that they meet Australian requirements for public health and safety, and comply with national food standards including MRLs. See the results of imported food surveys.

What about New Zealand?

New Zealand has its own standards for agvet chemical residues in food. The New Zealand Government (through the Ministry of Primary Industries) enforces these standards.

Under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement, food imported into Australia from New Zealand that complies with New Zealand regulations is exempt from complying with Schedule 20 of the Code.

This means that food produced in New Zealand and complies with New Zealand’s MRLs may be sold in Australia and vice versa. New Zealand also has a Total Diet Study which looks for chemical residues.

Variations to MRLs

FSANZ generally prepares one MRL proposal each year to consider requests to harmonise MRLs. Requests can also be made through the application process if the information requirements for a proposal are unable to be met or they are time critical. 

The APVMA can also amend Schedule 20 of the Code based on assessments they have made on applications for the use of agvet chemicals. FSANZ publishes these notices of applications and through Notification Circulars to seek comment on changes proposed by the APVMA.

More information on how to submit an MRL harmonisation request is available in our Guide for submitting requests.

General enquiries about MRLs can be directed to MRL.Contact@foodstandards.gov.au

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