Food Law News - EU - 2002

FSA Letter, 18 November 2002

CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

The letter reports discussions at meetings of the EC Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health and the Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants on 3 and 21 October respectively.


The draft Commission Regulation setting maximum limits for patulin in apple juice, other apple products and other fruit juices, including a maximum limit of 10 µg/kg for patulin in apple juice ready to drink and solid apple products, including apple compote, apple puree for infants and young children and sold as such and baby food, infant formulae and follow-on formulae was discussed at a meeting of the Standing Committee.

A number of Member States, including the UK, could not accept the proposal since there is no validated analytical method available that can test for patulin in these foods down to 10 µg/kg. However, some delegations would accept the proposal only if the limit for baby food was set at 10 µg/kg. It was agreed to set a limit for patulin in baby foods at 10 µg/kg as long as an internationally validated analytical method was agreed by the time of implementation of the regulation. If a method was not agreed by that time, a limit of 15 µg/kg would be used. At present, no validated method exists and the lowest level considered to date in a collaborative trial for patulin was 25 µg/kg. The Commission stated that a collaborative trial would be carried out, co-ordinated by JRC, and that invitations to participate would be sent out before the end of November. The trial would begin in February 2003, with results available by July 2003. There will be no limit on the number of laboratories taking part and all those that had recently contributed to the SMT Scoop would be invited to take part. Following concerns expressed by some Member States it was agreed that 5 samples will be used in the trial - apple juice, apple puree, another fruit puree and two complex baby food mixtures. No funds would be provided to the participating laboratories from the Commission. Various Member States, including the UK, underlined the need to validate a method that has a limit of quantification significantly lower than the proposed limit.

The draft Regulation, which has been amended to indicate that the 10 µg/kg limit is provisional and a final decision will await the outcome of the collaborative trial, and the amended draft Directive (SANCO/0977/2002) on sampling and analysis have been forwarded to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to seek member countries' comments. The UK has suggested further modifications to the Directive, particularly with respect for the requirement to carry out duplicate analyses.

The draft Commission Recommendation on a code of practice for the reduction of patulin contamination in apple juice and apple juice ingredients in other beverages has also been forwarded to the WTO for comment.

Mycotoxins in baby foods and foods for infants and young children

The draft Commission Regulation sets maximum limits for aflatoxin B1, aflatoxin M1 and ochratoxin A in foods for infants and young children. There was discussion as to whether lower limits for children should be set rather than a reconsideration of the present limits, which should cover food for all age groups. Whilst accepting that there was some validity in this argument, the Commission did not consider this approach practical. One Member State argued strongly for limits lower than those in the current draft Regulation. It was agreed that there was adequate analytical methodology existing to support the proposed limits for B1. Some Member States, including the UK, questioned whether the limit for M1 was consistent with the existing limit of 0.05 µg/kg for milk. However, it was accepted that since IDACE had proposed a limit of 0.03 µg/kg, this issue had been taken into consideration. It was noted that the occurrence data for ochratoxin A were limited and the Commission asked Member Sates to submit any data they had available.

The Commission proposed that the sampling method detailed in SANCO/0977/2002 (see above) be used as a basis for sampling baby foods and foods for infants and young children for mycotoxins other than patulin. Member States felt unable to comment as they had not had time to consider this issue, and the issue will be discussed at the next meeting of the WG.

Aflatoxins in peanuts, nuts and dried figs

Turkish dried figs, hazelnuts and pistachios, Iranian pistachios and Chinese peanuts and Brazilian Brazil nuts

The Commission requested that Member States arrange to complete and submit datasheets on imports of Turkish hazelnuts, pistachios and dried figs, Iranian pistachios, Chinese peanuts and Brazilian Brazil nuts. At present, it was difficult for the Commission to conclude how many consignments of these products are tested and fail in terms of the total number of consignments imported into the EU. These data would then be used in discussions on follow-up measures.

Egyptian peanuts

A EC Food and Veterinary Office mission to Egypt in September 2001 found that significant improvements had been made to improve controls on peanuts exported to the EC and that the export procedures and associated analysis and certification for aflatoxin were satisfactory. Recent data received from Member States, regarding the levels of aflatoxins in consignments of peanuts imported from Egypt, have indicated that there had been a significant decrease in the number of rejected consignments. The Standing agreed that there was, therefore, no longer a need for all consignments to be tested at import. A random testing, together with the measures imposed by the previous Commission Decision, would provide a sufficient level of consumer protection. In order to ensure that the random testing is performed in a harmonised manner throughout the EU the amending Decision specifies the approximate frequency (10%) for random testing of consignments. Any consignment to be tested can be detained for a maximum of 10 working days from the time it enters into the Community. Enforcement authorities must issue an accompanying official document establishing that the consignment has been subjected to official sampling and analysis and indicating the result of analysis.

Other issues

Ochratoxin A forum

A workshop to discuss ochratoxin A in commodities such as wine, grape juice, coffee, cocoa etc, similar to that held in March 2002, is provisionally proposed for early January 2003. It will be the final forum before discussions on the setting of the regulations for those commodities where ochratoxin A regulations do not presently exist and reviewing the existing limits. As previously, professional organisations will be invited to participate in this workshop. The Commission will circulate a master list of questions to be addressed at the forum to Member States and the trade associations in mid-December.

Fumonisins, zearalenone, nivalenol, T-2 toxin and HT-2 toxin

Discussion of this area was limited as the results of the current SCOOP Task were awaited and the co-ordinators of the Task had been asked to submit the initial results by early November. The Commission underlined the need for more occurrence data and for a 'prioritisation' list for Fusarium mycotoxins to be drawn up using risk assessment techniques together with a consideration of possible maximum limits, the need for a collaborative trial to establish the necessary analytical methodology, and priority foodstuffs (adult and baby foods).

Framework 5 and 6 programmes update

DG Research outlined current progress and future work in mycotoxin related projects within the programmes. The topics relevant to the mycotoxins area are food safety and communication, new biotechnologies for monitoring contaminants and development, monitoring and assessment of biocontrol agents. The UK asked what the fate of Framework funded websites would be after the projects ended. DG Research indicated that they expect the websites to be self-sustaining after project closedown, perhaps through subscription charges, however, the Commission indicated that it hoped that such charges would not be necessary to ensure free access to research results for all.

The relationship between the analytical results, the measurement uncertainty, recovery factors and the maximum level

The UK presented the two papers on uncertainty analysis and the Commission also presented a paper from the FLEP Mycotoxins Working Group. All these papers underlined the need for greater consistency when reporting recovery and uncertainty in relation to mycotoxin concentrations and contaminants in general. All Member States agreed that harmonisation of uncertainty reporting should be achieved as soon as possible, but there was no agreement on how this issue should be addressed. The Commission indicated that the vehicle of the proposed Food and Feed Control Regulations was not an option at this stage. Its preferred option was to make changes to the sampling directives so that a requirement to report analytical uncertainty would be explicitly stated.

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