PROPOSED EUROPE WIDE BAN ON JELLY CONFECTIONERY CONTAINING KONJAC AS A FOOD ADDITIVE
This is a UK wide consultation on draft emergency legislation to ensure consistent action across Europe on the risk to consumers posed by the choking hazard presented by jelly mini-cups (mini fruit gel sweets) containing konjac.
The effect of the legislation will be to suspend the use, placing on the market and import of jelly confectionery, including jelly mini-cups, containing konjac (E425) in the European Community. The draft legislation aims to provide adequate protection of human health across Europe in light of the disparity of action by Member States on these products.
This proposal will be voted on at the meeting of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on 19 March 2002 and if adopted will be enacted in UK legislation by emergency Regulation shortly thereafter. Comments from interested parties are therefore required by close on 15 March. In light of the timetable, the deadline cannot be extended.
A number of deaths have been reported from around the world linked to jelly mini-cups containing konjac. We are also aware of the death of a young child in February in the UK. The cause of death is not yet known and is subject to an inquest which has not yet been held. However, the fact that a minicup gel sweet may have been a factor in the death cannot be excluded at this stage. These sweets are imported from the far East and we are not aware of manufacturers in the UK or the European Union. In the UK the FSA issued a Statement in August 2001 giving advice that parents should be alert to the potential risk from these sweets and that children should not buy or eat them.
Based on further information gathered and advice from the Department of Health, the FSA assessed these jelly mini-cups containing konjac as not being suitable for sale on the UK market because they present a choking hazard due to their size, shape, consistency and solubility. Some of these products contain a small piece of fruit that may also present a hazard. Subsequently, the FSA issued two Food Hazard Warnings (FHW) to local authorities (14 December 2001 and 6 March 2002). Enforcement Officials have taken action under existing legislation to remove this product from sale. This legislation is the General Product Safety Regulations 1994 (implementing the EU General Product Safety Directive) and the Food Safety Act 1990. A number of other countries, including a number of Member States, have taken action to address this risk.
Konjac (konjac glucomannane, konjac gum) is a permitted food additive (E 425), approved for safety by the EC Scientific Committee on Food. It has, since 1998/9, been permitted to be used in a wide range of foods under UK/EC miscellaneous additives legislation. Imports may also describe this ingredient as glucomannan, konyak, konjac gum, konyac, conjac, konnyaku or konnuyaku.
The FSA has been made aware that some of the jelly mini-cups containing konjac may still be on retail sale in the UK, particularly in smaller outlets such as corner shops, newsagents, market stalls etc. To counter this problem the FSA has issued further advice in a second FHW to Local Authorities and more widely publicised this in the media. The fact that Member States have taken different food safety measures on this problem across the European Union means there is no certainty that this product has been stopped from coming into the European market. While Enforcement Officials are making every effort to stop the entry of product into the UK, the surest means is for a consistent approach across Europe. The FSA has been pressing the European Commission to introduce measures to achieve this.
The Commission has concluded that jelly mini-cups containing konjac constitute a life-threatening risk. This risk to human health is presented by the size and shape, and the chemical and physical properties of the products.
In order to ensure a consistent approach across the Community, the European Commission has proposed to suspend the sale, production or import of jelly confectionery containing konjac. The measure aims to provide adequate protection of human health across the Community
The Commission can take action under Article 53 (1) of Regulation No 178/2002. This Regulation lays down the general principles and requirements of food law, and procedures in matters of food safety. Once adopted, the UK will enact an emergency Statutory Instrument shortly thereafter.
The FSA supports this proposal. Further action is likely by an amendment of Directive 95/2/EEC on food additives other than colours and sweeteners, in order to modify the authorisation for the use of E 425 konjac in line with this proposal.