BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Nearly half of food products in Europe contain residues of pesticides, with strawberries the most likely to exceed legal limits, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said on Thursday.
The official EU body also found traces of pesticides in organic foods, though it said its analysis of almost 81,000 food samples found the risk of any negative impact on health was low.
But campaign groups said the data was worrying, especially in the cases where residues of more than one pesticide were found. They said the pesticides were mostly fungicides, which are possible carcinogens, and more research was needed into the implications of exposure to more than one.
The latest EFSA report, for 2013, found that almost 55 percent of the samples of food products in European Union and neighboring countries were free from detectable traces of chemicals.
Of the rest, only 1.5 percent clearly exceeded legal limits, meaning that businesses responsible for them face action.
The highest rate of exceeding limits was for strawberries (2.5 percent of the sample). They are especially sensitive to disease and so undergo considerable spraying with pesticides.
EFSA said it had tested for 685 pesticides in the 27 nations that belonged to the EU for all of 2013 (Croatia joined in that year), plus Norway and Iceland, and had found multiple residues in 27.3 percent of samples.
"For short-term exposure, the risk of European citizens being exposed to harmful levels of residues via their diet was rated as low," the EFSA said in a statement.
"Exceeding the legal limit does not necessarily imply exceeding the safety limit," it said.
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) advocacy group was sceptical, calculating that one out of every eight boxes of strawberries contained six pesticide residues.
"In general the pollution of European food with pesticide residues remains at a very, unhealthy high level and there is no real improvement visible in recent years," Martin Dermine of PAN Europe said.
For organic food, 15.5 percent of samples contained pesticides within legal limits and mostly of kinds permitted for organic farming, but 0.8 percent exceeded permitted levels.
Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich