Food Law News - EU - 2001

FSA Letter, 22 May 2001

CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins: EC Permitted Levels

The FSA last wrote on 4 April regarding the progress with EC discussions on harmonised controls for mycotoxins. These discussions were continued on 8 May at a Commission Workshop on ochratoxin A and a meeting of the Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants. Mycotoxin issues were also discussed at a Codex co-ordination meeting on 7 May.

1. Ochratoxin A

At the Commission workshop representatives of European Trade Associations gave presentations on the investigations currently in progress into the identification, quantification, cause and prevention of ochratoxin A contamination of cereals, beer, coffee, cocoa, dried vine fruit, grape juice and wine. There was also a presentation on the work being undertaken under the Fifth Framework Programme.

There were concerns over the high costs incurred by industry when following the official sampling protocol for monitoring ochratoxin A in cereals. It was suggested that contamination of coffee and cocoa, both imported from third countries could be significantly reduced through development of codes of Good Agricultural Practice. Presentations from the wine, grape juice and dried vine fruit Trade Associations identified several common issues relating to product contamination, such as the effect of fruit origin and fruit quality on contamination of the final product. The Commission has indicated that they will provide Member States with copies of the presentations given at the workshop when these become available.

The Commission commented that it was pleased to see the different sectors of the food industry aware of the possibility of ochratoxin A contamination and that industry is actively investigating ways to deal with the problem. It was recognised that some industries have been studying these problems for longer than others and that in many cases it is too early at present to draw any firm conclusions on how contamination might be reduced. The Commission encouraged industry to share their data with the Working Group to inform their future discussions on ochratoxin A. A second forum is to be held in January 2002 and a further meeting in September 2002 at which progress will be assessed.

A meeting was held on 5 April to discuss the Scientific Co-operation Task on the intake of ochratoxin A in EU Member States and finalise the report. The report is due to be published at the end of June 2001.

2. Aflatoxins

Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1566/1999 states that maximum limits for aflatoxins in nuts, dried fruit and cereals to subjected to sorting or other physical treatment before human consumption would be reconsidered before 1 July 2001. Industry was requested to provide evidence to indicate that such treatments would reduce contamination levels to below those set for products for direct human consumption.

Euromaisiers supplied data which suggested that cleaning and milling processes consistently reduce aflatoxin levels in maize. They proposed, therefore, that an aflatoxin level of up to 15 mg/kg should be set for maize to be subjected to sorting or other physical processing before human consumption. Several Member States felt that data presented were unclear and inconclusive, however, recognition was given for the work done. It was proposed that the aflatoxin limits of 2 and 4ppb should apply to all cereals to be subjected to sorting or other physical treatment, apart from maize, from 1 July 2001. Limits for maize would be left open for a further two years in order that additional studies can be carried out to provide sound scientific data.

The Almond Board of California supplied evidence which suggests that sorting and physical processing of almonds consistently reduces aflatoxin levels. They suggested that the same maximum levels for aflatoxins, as currently proposed for groundnuts which are to be subjected to sorting or other physical treatment before human consumption (8 mg/kg for aflatoxin B1 and 15 mg/kg for total aflatoxins), can be applied to almonds.

Several Member States noted from the results of their own monitoring and enforcement schemes that almonds are a low risk product. There was, however, some confusion over the data presented and it was felt that further studies were required. It was proposed that the maximum levels of 5 and 10 mg/kg would apply to nuts and dried fruit to be subjected to sorting or other physical treatment, apart from almonds, from 1 July 2001. Time will be allowed for additional data to be provided to demonstrate conclusively that levels of aflatoxins in almonds can be reduced by sorting or other physical treatment.

With regard to pistachios, Iran had been asked to supply data on the effects of sorting or other physical treatments to reduce levels of aflatoxin. If a suitable reduction could not be demonstrated, the limits would be reduced from 5 and 10 mg/kg to 2 and 4 mg/kg for all pistachio nuts and products. Any information on this issue would be gratefully received.

The European Commission has prepared a position paper for the Codex Alimentarius Commission meeting in July requesting that the proposed Draft Maximum Level for aflatoxin M1 in milk be returned to Step 6 for further discussion.

3. Patulin

The European Commission has prepared a position paper for the Codex Commission meeting in July requesting that the proposed Draft Maximum Level for patulin be returned to Step 6 for additional comments and further consideration. An initial meeting to discuss the Scientific Co-operation Task on patulin intake in Member States, which has recently been set up, was held on 16 May.

4. Codex

The final report of the 33rd Session of the CCFAC, which took place in March, is now available on the Internet at

At the above meeting the JECFA Secretariat drew the attention of the CCFAC to the need for adequate sampling plans in addition to methods of analysis, and invited member countries to provide any relevant information.

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