Introduction to agricultural compound residues in food

Find out about agricultural compounds (like pesticides and veterinary medicines), why they're used, and how residues are managed in food.

What are agricultural compounds?

Chemicals and biological substances are often used to treat animals and crops in agriculture and horticulture. These include:

  • pesticides
  • antibiotics and other medicines for animals
  • hormonal growth promotants.

These are known as "agricultural compounds".

Why agricultural compounds are used

Because of our good growing conditions there's a high risk of disease, parasites, weeds, and other pests. Research estimates that more than 50% of crop production is lost to pests. Farmers use agricultural compounds like pesticides to improve this rate. Keeping animals and crops farms free from pests is important for their health and production.

Using agricultural compounds helps to:

  • reduce the cost of many foods (because the crops and animals can produce more when there are fewer pests)
  • manage outbreaks of pests, diseases, and weather events like droughts
  • reduce the risks to human health and animal health.

Agricultural compounds and food

Agricultural compound residues in food are managed with maximum residue levels (MRLs). MRLs set the amount of the agricultural compound that can be present in food.

Find out more about MRLs for agricultural compounds

Food can be recalled, and food production can be suspended, where the residues in the food are considered a dietary exposure risk to the public.

If the food continues to be sold, the public will be advised of any risk.

Are agricultural compounds safe?

Residues can remain in food products (like fruit, vegetables, and meat).

In New Zealand, residues and other chemicals in food are well within safe levels.

How safe levels are set for chemical residues in food

If you're still concerned, you can reduce your exposure by:

  • thoroughly washing all produce, especially if eating raw
  • eating undamaged produce that looks fresh
  • making sure food is properly cooked.

Find out more

Hormonal growth promotants in food

Antibiotics and resistance in food

Glyphosate in food

Who to contact

If you have questions about agricultural compound residues in food, email

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