Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - EU - 2017

FSA Stakeholder Update, 23 June 2017

CONTAMINANTS - June 2017 Stakeholder update on rapidly developing policy on food contaminants

A number of issues have been discussed at European Commission working group meetings and Standing Committees; a summary of each issue is provided for information.

Erucic acid in food

Following the publication of EFSA’s scientific opinion on erucic acid in food and feed and the possibility that some high level consumers could slightly exceed the health based guidance value, the Commission has been considering the revision of current MLs for erucic acid for vegetable oils and fats and infant formula.

There seems to be a general agreement among Member States that a level of 20 g/kg for vegetable oils and fats (aligned with the level established at Codex) and 4 g/kg for infant formula and follow-on formula. The levels of erucic acid would be calculated on the total level of fatty acids in food. Article 2 of 1881/2006 would be applied for foods containing added oils and fats. Borage oil is also known to naturally contain erucic acid; however as borage oil is consumed in low quantities the Commission is not proposing to establish a maximum level for erucic acid on borage oil.

Mustards and mustard oil are known to have higher levels of erucic acid and could increase erucic acid exposure. Therefore MLs have been proposed for these items as well - 30 g/kg for mustards (applicable to the whole weight of the product) and 300 g/kg for mustard oil. Most mustard oil cannot meet the current ML of 50 g/kg and regular consumption of mustard oil would lead to the exceedance of the tolerable intake level established by EFSA. Discussions will continue on the appropriate measures to be taken for mustard oil. 

Ochratoxin A in food

MLs have been in place for OTA in foodstuffs such as cereals, dried vine fruit, coffee and some spices. Recently, higher levels of OTA were found in some other foods. In order to protect consumers from very high levels of OTA in these foods, the Commission has proposed settings MLs for these commodities, by evaluating occurrence data for these foods. The following MLs have been proposed for further discussion - dried figs and dried apricots or all dried fruit (10 µg/kg), mixtures of spices (15 µg/kg), sunflower and pumpkin seeds, pistachios, hazelnuts or all tree nuts (5 µg/kg), liquorice placed on the market for the final consumer (10 µg/kg), herbs and herbal teas (10 µg/kg) and cocoa powder (2 µg/kg). Any comments on these proposals, including data that stakeholders might have on OTA levels in these foodstuffs are welcomed. The proposal will be discussed further and once agreement has been reached, will be included in the legislation for contaminants in food.

Ergot alkaloids in food

EFSA are carrying out an updated exposure assessment to ergot alkaloids in food. The relationship between the level of sclerotia and ergot alkaloids will also be examined. The results of this assessment are due to be published soon. Initial results indicate that dietary exposures are only slightly higher than those estimated by EFSA in 2012 although some high level consumers of younger age groups could exceed the tolerable intake values. The Commission is considering risk management options including the possibility of setting MLs for cereal-based milling products and products sold to the final consumer.

T-2 and HT-2 in food

Following the Commission Recommendation 2013/165/EU to monitor the presence of T2 and HT2 toxin in cereals and cereal products, Member States have submitted occurrence data to EFSA. A revised exposure assessment is being carried out which includes these recent data. EFSA have also published their assessment on the ‘Appropriateness to set a group health based guidance value for T2 and HT2 toxin and its modified forms’.  The tolerable intake level (TDI) has been reduced to 0.02 µg/kg bw following evidence from new toxicity studies. In order to address the impact of the lower TDI and possible risk management actions, as well as the impact of climate change on mycotoxin levels, the Commission is planning to organise a stakeholder forum in the autumn.

Alternaria toxins in food

EFSA’s exposure assessment has shown that while exposures to the Alternaria toxin - tentoxin (TEN) were not a concern, exposures were above the threshold of toxic concern (TTC) for tenuazonic acid (TEA) and the genotoxic alternariol (AOH) and alternariol monomethyl ether (AME). The Commission is proposing that risk management measures may be considered for products where high levels were encountered such as tomato & tomato based products, gogi berries, mulberries, hemp based food, figs, sunflower seeds and infant foods.

Citrinin in food

EFSA’s survey on citrinin in food has been published. The occurrence levels in cereal based foods from the EFSA survey do not indicate a cause for concern. However data from the survey show that the current maximum level of 2000 μg/kg in food supplements based on rice fermented with red yeast Monascus purpureus could be lowered (the 95th percentile occurrence was 830 µg/kg). Good manufacturing practices are available and levels could be lowered in the food supplement.

Peanuts imported from the US

Following an increase in non-compliance of aflatoxin levels in peanuts imported from the US, Member States have agreed that the reduced frequency of checks allowed by the EC Regulation 2015/948 approving the pre-export checks carried out on certain food by certain third countries will no longer apply to peanuts imported from the US. This will be removed from the annex to the Regulation.

Opium alkaloids in poppy seeds

As mentioned in the update in March 2017, a target level of 10 mg/kg is applicable for opium alkaloids in poppy seeds. This level is applicable to poppy seeds and products containing poppy seeds placed on the market destined for the final consumer (direct human consumption or to be used by the consumer as ingredient in food). In response to a request for clarification, at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed on 19 June 2017, the Commission confirmed that  as far as business to business transactions are concerned, the target level will apply to those where the poppy seeds are provided to a food business operator who places the poppy seeds on the market for a final consumer without any further physical treatment (e.g. baking) to reduce the opium alkaloid content or who uses the poppy seeds as ingredient in finished foods without any further physical treatment.

Draft Regulation on Maximum Levels for Mercury

Following the March 2017 update, there has been some internal procedural discussions in the EU Commission regarding the review of maximum levels (MLs) for mercury in food. However, no way forward has yet been presented for discussion.

Acrylamide in food

The Commission has launched a public consultation (until 7th July) on the updated draft via the EU Commission feedback mechanism The public consultation text was further discussed at the 19th of June SCOPAFF meeting and the Commission is hoping to put the measure for a vote before the summer break at a specific July meeting. It is anticipated that the regulation will be formally adopted in November 2017 (there is then a 4th month transition period before the measures come into force). Discussions on the feasibility of establishing MLs for any food categories will start immediately after the Regulation is adopted.

Glycidyl esters in food

The regulatory measure setting maximum limits (MLs) for Glycidyl fatty acid esters expressed as glycidol for vegetable oils and fats, and infant formula will likely to go for vote at the September 2017 SCOPAFF meeting.

The new EURL on processing contaminants will be tasked to develop sensitive analytical methods by the 1st of April 2019, in order to be able to enforce the proposed lower MLs for glycidyl fatty acid esters for liquid and powdered infant formula applicable from January 2020. The achievability of these lower MLs will be confirmed in April 2019.

The Commission does not intend to put forward a formal monitoring Recommendation for 3-MCPD esters and glycidyl esters in food supplements containing fish oil, but data on levels in these products is required to inform discussions as to risks and potential control measures. Discussion on possible regulatory measures for the control of MCPD esters in oils and infant formula will commence when EFSA has finalised its reopened opinion (likely to be from September).

Lead in baby food

As a result of data provided by a Member State indicating that the level of compliance for lead in baby foods and infant formula at 0.050 mg/kg is very good and that the ML may therefore now no longer be promoting ALARA, the Commission is considering whether it may be appropriate to reduce the ML to either 0.040 or 0.030 mg/kg. Therefore feedback and data is sought on this issue to inform discussions.

Seaweed Monitoring Recommendation

The Commission intends to put forward a Recommendation for monitoring for heavy metals and iodine for specific varieties of seaweed to generate more data in order to set MLs for these products. Member States are asked to indicate types of seaweeds to be included in the monitoring Recommendation. Some EU member states have established national limits and therefore in the longer term and due to increasing consumer appetite for such foods harmonised EU MLs are considered necessary. Therefore feedback and data is sought on this issue to inform discussions.

Codex Committee on Contaminants in Feed and Food (CCCF)

The draft report of the 11th session of CCCF can be found here.

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