Sodium alginate is used as a firming agent for peeled, sliced, ready-to-eat, packaged carrots. The treatment described above prevents a carrot's surface from turning white as a result of drying out and also prevents the carrot from going soft. The committee, which adopted a report on food additives by Paul LANNOYE (Greens/EFA, B) at a meeting on 23 March chaired by Caroline JACKSON (EPP/ED, UK), unanimously took the view that treating food with sodium alginate would mislead the consumer as the food might appear fresher than it really was. Sodium alginate also has laxative qualities, which is another good reason not to use it.
Mr Lannoye was reporting on Commission proposals to amend Directive 95/2/EC on food additives other than colours and sweeteners. The Commission is proposing to add a number of new additives to the list of those authorised under the directive, a move opposed by the rapporteur and other committee members. The Commission was criticised for being too lenient and was asked to apply the precautionary principle more rigorously to the manufacture of foodstuffs. It was imperative, MEPs said, that the criteria of "usefulness to the consumer" and "harmlessness" be taken very seriously.
Apart from sodium alginate (E 401) the committee was against the Commission's proposals to add butane (E 943a), isobutane (E 943b) and propane (E 944) to the list. These gases are used as propellants for vegetable oil or water-vegetable oil emulsions, to grease containers for oven-cooking or to apply a mixture of spices or other flavourings to, for example, oven- ready pizzas. The committee wondered whether it was a good idea to authorise use of a propellant gas of fossil origin and with a high risk of explosion. It also expressed doubt about the use of ethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose as a stabiliser in gluten-free bread in Sweden and as a binding agent in batter coating for deep-frozen fish, pastries, cake mixes and confectionery.
A Commission representative announced the publication of a report on the various aspects of food additives by July 2000 and of a proposal for a new directive before the end of this year. Mr Lannoye's report (codecision procedure, first reading) is scheduled for debate at the Strasbourg plenary session in April.