Food Law News - EU - 1999

8 February 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

JFSSG Letter, 8 February 1999

Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

Ochratoxin A

The Commission Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants (3/4/99) discussed the available data on OA intakes by EU consumers from different food commodities. A number of Member States, including the UK, had provided estimates of OA intakes for their consumers. The data are incomplete since we have yet to incorporate the contributions from wine and cocoa. Nonetheless, the estimates confirm the reassuring finding that intakes in excess of 5ng/kg bw/day (the upper range of tolerable intake advised by the EC's Scientific Committee for Food) are unlikely for even high level consumers (95th %ile).

The Commission has proposed that as a starting point for the discussions about appropriate regulatory limits, only those commodities contributing substantially to total OA intakes should be considered : cereals, wine, beer and coffee. In addition it might be necessary to consider spices, dried fruits and grape juice, which may produce substantial OA intakes for some consumers. The Commission suggested that any remaining categories should not be considered further unless there was new evidence of a problem. A number of Member States, including the UK, stated the importance of taking preventive measures in concert with regulatory limits, to limit the formation of OA by promoting good agricultural and storage practices.

The UK pointed out that coffee is a relatively minor contributer of OA for the UK consumer, but other Member States, where more fresh coffee is drunk appear happy at the moment for it to remain in the regulatory frame. We also pointed the anomaly of including spices when there is an absence of evidence to indicate that they make a substantial contribution to total OA exposure. Other Member States did not object to the Commission's proposals but may wish to consult back home before agreeing to this approach.

There was a brief and inconclusive discussion about what might be an appropriate limit for cereals. The Commission now seems to accept that a separate and higher limit should be set for the raw commodity, if it can be demonstrated that physical processing can reduce OA to levels which are acceptable for the final consumer. It also appears to accept that the reassuringly low estimates of OA intakes by EC consumers do not warrant ultra low regulatory limits. However, we have yet to have any discussion about what these limits might be and how they could be justified in terms of consumer protection.

Aflatoxins and spices

There was further discussion of the aflatoxin in spices results from the EC's co-ordinated control programme. The Commission still feels that it is likely to have a majority in favour of a regulatory limit and intends to make a make a formal proposal some time after the next meeting on 1 March. Following further discussion by the group, it is likely that the Commission will propose the addition of a single category "spices" to the aflatoxins regulation with a limit for spices intended for the final consumer of 5 ppb for B1 and 10 ppb for AF total; with a separate higher limit for the raw commodity if it can be demonstrated that aflatoxin levels can be reduced effectively by physical processing (including solvent extraction). The Commission now intends to approach representatives of the European spice industries to discuss the possibility of physical processing reducing aflatoxin levels.

Aflatoxins in cereals, nuts and dried fruit

The aflatoxins regulation (EC No 1525/98) allows for the possibility of setting higher limits for raw commodities (cereals, nuts and dried fruit) if there is evidence of effective physical processing technology to reduce aflatoxins to within acceptable limits for the final consumer. Following the discussion, it appeared that evidence had only been provided for maize. It was agreed that a 2 year extension of the 1 July deadline would be made for cereals to allow the generation of further evidence. The Commission stated that the report of the EC's mission to Iran in October would be available very shortly on the Internet.

The next meeting to discuss mycotoxins is planned for 1 March.

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