The Need to Harmonize Maximum Residue Levels

Nearly All Produce Has Zero Residues of Crop Protection Products

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

It can be tempting to grab a piece of produce right off the shelf and take a bite. We have the California Specialty Crops Council and the MRL Workshop to thank for this! MRL stands for the Maximum Residue Level on any agricultural produce.

Now, the words “residue level on produce” may be alarming, but it is important to note that we are talking about parts per billion that are far below the unhealthy level. In fact, nearly all produce has zero residues!

maximum residue level
Gary Van Sickle, Specialty Crops Council

The MRL Workshop is an event that has been held for the past 12 years in San Francisco, where experts from around the world come together to discuss new findings and challenges.

Gary Van Sickle, executive director of the California Specialty Crops Council, explained that a significant issue within the industry is the lack of harmonization amongst the countries.

“You’ve gone from a situation where many countries that used to use the Codex Food Safety Standard are now moving forward with setting their own, and every one of these standards is a little different,” Van Sickle said. “This creates problems for agriculture producers trying to export produce to countries with their standard.”

The MRL Workshop helps to identify these problems and recognize how to start solving them. According to Van Sickle, the keys are transparency and regulations that are reasonable.

When considering the number of specialty crops California exports across the world, the importance of this workshop becomes more and more evident.

MRL Discussion Continues to Expand

MRL Transparency is Needed to Avoid Hurting Exports

by Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Gary Van Sickle, executive director of the California Specialty Crops Council (CSCC), and host of the annual Maximum Residue Level (MRL) Harmonization Workshop in San Francisco earlier this month, spoke about the increased MRL discussion that has taken place in the last decade. “We had the vision about 11 years ago to see there was a need to start talking about MRLs in a public forum,” he said.

With nearly 125 attendees at their workshops, CSCC “has anywhere from eight to ten international countries participating,” said Van Sickle. And as the organization has grown, Van Sickle and his team have found that MRL awareness is increasing. “One of the major focuses here is to bring into the sector an awareness of what is going on with MRLs. Through this workshop, that comes to light.” he said.

Gary Van Sickle,
Gary Van Sickle, Executive Director of California Specialty Crops Council.

“Also very important,” Van Sickle said, “is the linkage between the different sectors represented here—the registrants, the agricultural industry, the government agencies and even the universities and academia.”

Van Sickle discussed how MRLS are convoluted in other countries. “There are disconnects between crop protection measures in one country versus another,” he began, “which can hurt exports for American farmers. When a crop protection company develops products for crops, the crops are tested for what could be a maximum residue level, say it is 0.5 parts per billion,” Van Sickle explained. “The trouble comes when an importing country puts the MRL at a different level, say .1 parts per billion. Suddenly, that limits the crop’s importing potential into that country.”

Van Sickle added, “Some [countries] have tolerances that are on the low side and under our usage levels here in the states, so they can apply the [standard] properly.” Problems occur when MRLs for an American crop export “does not make the residue level for the country that it is going into,” according to Van Sickle.

Another important discussion was implementing consistency in regulation over the years. “We are also in a situation where there’s a lag-time for getting MRLs registered,” he said. “As new products come out, they get registered here for growers to use. Sometimes there’s a lag-time of three to five years or more for another country to get [the same product] registered so that the American grower can use that new chemical, which could slow the export to a particular country, keep it diverted to another country that has MRLs, or keep it off an export situation altogether,” he concluded.

Bayer CropScience’s New West Sacramento Facility to Focus on Biopesticides

Biopesticides Are Valuable Part of Pest and Disease Control

By Colby Tibbett

Bill Stoneman is the executive director of the Biopesticide Industry Alliance, which is dedicated to fostering adoption of biopesticide technologies through increased awareness about their effectiveness and full range of benefits to a progressive pest management program.

“These are very important tools in terms of resistance management because they allow us to target alternative modes of action against pests. Biopesticide technologies are tools in the quiver, as well as the chemistries we are currently using and developing,” said Stoneman.

Biopesticides offer many other benefits, such as no maximum residue level (MRL) issues, reduced preharvest intervals and decreased reentry intervals.

Bill Stoneman, Biopesticide Industry Alliance Executive Director
Bill Stoneman, Biopesticide Industry Alliance Executive Director

“What you’re going to find, is that they will be used in rotation with the chemical pesticides or other cultural methods to prevent plant diseases and insects. I think you’re going to see more development in the seed treatment area. Again, seed is a good delivery mode to get things to the plant’s roots, and that’s where a lot of these materials are effective, from the plant-disease perspective,” said Stoneman.

With regard to insect control, Stoneman said, “We’re going to see new things coming into the marketplace. Some insect-specific viruses are going to be expanding in the U.S. soon, with applications on a variety of crops—but very insect specific—so in other woBill Stoneman Bayer Crop Science West Sacramentords, they kill only that insect, so there is no harm to pollinators or beneficials,” said Stoneman.

This will be more common in the future, according to Stoneman, “I think we will see as a trend going forward more reliance on the biologicals, pollinators, tailored pest control programs and IPM approaches to preventing any damage to those natural control forces in agriculture,” said Stoneman.

A big step for Biopesticides in California was the recent grand opening of the Bayer CropScience’s $80 million investment in their biologics and seed business in West Sacramento. It will focus on this new frontier of pest and disease control.


Adrian Percy, Bayer CropScience Global Research and Development (Source:
Adrian Percy, Bayer CropScience Global Research and Development (Source:

Adrian Percy, global head of research & development (R&D) with Bayer CropScience, explained Bayer’s decision for the West Sacramento location, “First and foremost, California is an amazing hub of agricultural innovation. We have UC Davis just down the road, which we have close ties to. In 2012, we purchased AgraQuest, which was based in Davis, so basically we’re moving them into this new facility which is much bigger and more state-of-the-art than what they were using previously,” said Percy.

“We’re really excited because here we will be researching brand-new applications based on bacterial-based products, fungicides, insecticides, etc. In addition, we will be developing new vegetable seed varieties,” said Percy.

Among the advantages of these new biologic tools for growers is avoidance of MRLs, a big boon for vegetable growers. “We see a lot of advantages for these types of products. And this is one of the fastest growing sectors both for us as a company, but also in general. What we are seeking to do now is bring next generation products to the marketplace which are even better than the ones we have today,” said Percy.

“These kinds of products, I think from a stewardship and management perspective, are very advantageous to the grower,” he added.