In the case of residues and contaminants that may constitute a danger to public health, the government determines by regulation the maximum residue levels that are permitted in foodstuffs. For pesticides and veterinary drugs the limits are set very comprehensively, in the Pesticide Act and the Veterinary Medicines Act. The Commodity Act sets the limits for environmental contaminants that may unintentionally end up in a foodstuff.
The regulations for animal feeds contain limits for environmental contaminants. These limits ensure that there is no undesirable accumulation of these chemicals in milk and that the limits set in the Commodity Act are not exceeded.
The setting of limits for residues and contaminants is increasingly harmonised at an international level. In the first place the regulations in the European union are important. The world-wide harmonisation in the Codex (a co-operative project of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organization) is also of increasing significance. In the event of any trade disputes relating to residue limits, the World Trade Organization (WTO) will take the limits set in the Codex as its starting point.
European Pesticide Act
In the EU, limits for residues of pesticides in milk are laid down in directives. A directive contains a date, which is the deadline by which the rules or limits must be adopted in the national regulation of the Member States. That means that the Dutch regulations for the control of pesticide residues, in the Pesticide Act, must be continually modified in accordance with the European regulations. In addition to European residue limits, the Pesticide Act also contains national limits that have not yet been harmonised at the European level.
In the case of residues from veterinary drugs, the European rules, in the form of regulations, are directly applicable in the Netherlands. Regulation 2377/90/EEC provides the basis for this. The limits for environmental pollutants in food are published in the Commodity Act. European harmonisation of these limits is being pursued, but has not yet been realised.
However it is not only the residue limits that are harmonised. The European Commission also increasingly direct how the Member States must oversee the safety of agricultural products. Directive 96/23/EC stipulates that, from 1998, every Member State must measure traces of the agricultural chemicals and environmental pollutants, and must do so according to an established plan.