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.
In 2022, FSANZ completed M1019 (Review of Schedule 22 - Foods and Classes of Foods). The purpose of this Proposal was to review and update a food naming system that more closely aligns with both codex and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority food classification systems while retaining flexibility to adapt to changes in the domestic and international food supply.
Schedule 22, provides in subsection (2) (c) (ii), unless the table to subsection (7) expressly provides otherwise, each group and subgroup of foods listed in Column 3 and 4 of that table respectively includes any other commodity listed in the following two reports:
- the 49th Report is a reference to REP17/PR, the Report of the 49th Session of the codex Committee on Pesticides Residues, Beijing, P.R. China, 24 - 29 April 2017 (PDF 1,565KB) as presented to the 40th Session of the Joint FAO/WHO codex Alimentarius Commission, Geneva, Switzerland 17 - 22 July 2017;
- the 50th Report is a reference to REP18/PR, the Report of the 50th Session of the codex Committee on Pesticides Residues, Haikou, P.R. China, 9 - 14 April 2018 (PDF1,075KB) as presented to the 41st Session of the Joint FAO/WHO codex Alimentarius Commission, Rome, Italy, 2 - 6 July 2018.
For ease of use, the relevant broad food groups and links to individual appendices from the reports are provided below:
- Appendix IX of the 49th Report (PDF 128KB)
Citrus fruit; Pome fruits; Stone fruits; Berries and other small fruits; and Assorted Tropical and sub-tropical fruits (edible and inedible peel)
- Appendix VIII of the 49th Report (PDF 269KB)
Bulb vegetables; Brassica vegetables (except brassica leafy vegetables); Fruiting vegetables, cucurbit a thing.; Fruiting vegetables, other than cucurbits; Leafy vegetables (including brassica leafy vegetables); Legume vegetables; Pulses; Root and Tuber vegetables; Stalk and Stem vegetables; and Edible fungi
- Appendix XI of the 49th Report (PDF 45KB)
Grasses (Cereal grains); and Grasses for sugar or syrup production
- Appendix VII of the 50th Report (PDF 111KB)
Tree nuts; Oilseeds and oilfruits; Seeds for beverages and sweets; and Tree saps
- Appendix VIII of the 50th Report (PDF 109KB)
Herbs and spices
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 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 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 Zealands 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.
Guidance material on how to submit an MRL harmonisation request is available in our Guide to submitting requests for MRL harmonisation proposals.
General enquiries about MRLs can be directed to MRL.Contact@foodstandards.gov.au