Maximum residue limits, human health, and food safety
A maximum residue limit (MRL) is the highest amount of pesticide residue that may remain on or in food when a pesticide is used according to label directions.
MRLs are legal and enforceable limits set for the different combinations of pesticides and foods, or crops, in Canada. For example, if the same pesticide is used on apples and potatoes, the different crops may have a different MRL listed because they are applied to the crops differently.
Health Canada's scientists carefully review a wide variety of scientific data and information when setting pesticide food safety standards to keep everyone healthy. Pesticides play an important role in growing food but can only be used in Canada if the pesticide has been shown to meet Health Canada's requirements for protection of health and the environment.
As part of the MRL setting process for a pesticide, our scientists evaluate the toxicity of a pesticide and conduct a risk assessment that looks at the diets of people in Canada. This includes vulnerable populations like infants, seniors, children, and pregnant people.
Pesticides are used on food grown using conventional and organic practices to maintain food quality or prevent damage caused by pests, including insects, weeds, and fungal diseases. This ensures Canada has a secure supply of healthy food.
Pesticide residues are small amounts of conventional or organic pesticides that may stay on or in the food. They can get in or on our food when:
- they are applied to crops we eat, like fruits and vegetables,
- we make processed foods, like juice, from crops treated with pesticide, or
- we eat dairy or meat products from livestock animals that have eaten crops treated with pesticides.
Pesticide residues also break down over time, so by the time the food reaches your table there can be very small amounts of pesticide residues left on your food. Typically, the amount of pesticide residue on a food or crop is lower than the limit set for that specific combination of pesticide and food or crop.
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