Food Law News - EU - 1999

22 March 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

Scottish Office Letter, 22 March 1999
(JFSSG Letters, 2 and 15 March 1999)

Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

Further to the letter of 17 February regarding progress with EC discussions on harmonised ochratoxin A (OA) control and aflatoxins in spices. These discussions were continued at a meeting of the Commission Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants on 1 March. Ochratoxin A At the previous meeting (3/2/99), the Commission had 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 may be necessary to consider spices, dried fruits and grape juice, which might produce substantial OA intakes for some consumers. The Commission has now decided that it needs to flush out Member States' opinions and provoke discussion by suggesting some possible regulatory limits. The Chairman was at pains to point out that these suggestions were not a Commission proposal, merely a basis for discussion. Most Member States appeared unwilling to have the discussion without consulting at home. At this stage only the UK expressed the view that the limits should be proportionate to the risk. Most Member States seemed happy to accept the approach that limits should be as low as reasonably practical in order to encourage source control measures. There will be a clearer view of Member States' positions after the next meeting on 23 April. The limits suggested for discussion are as follows:

Aflatoxins and spices

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 has approached representatives of the European spice industries and evidence is awaited.

Iranian Pistachios

The Commission's report of its mission to Iran in October 1998 (XXIV/1492MR - 12.1.99) has also been discussed. The report noted that a number of improvements have been made to pistachio production methods in Iran. Nevertheless, it recommended that the Iranian authorities continue to improve controls (such as the introduction of an effective traceability system and a sampling method based on EU Directive 98/53/EC). It also recommended that, in light of the above, the special conditions currently imposed on the import of Iranian pistachios be maintained for a further 12 months when a further review by the Commission will take place. The Commission announced its intention to take up this recommendation and the special conditions imposed on the import of Iranian pistachios will, therefore, continue to apply.

Peanuts from India

The Commission had put forward a proposal for the temporary suspension of the import of peanuts into the EU from India. This followed a high number of incidents where products from these countries had been found to contain excessive levels of aflatoxin (as high as 400 ppb aflatoxin Bl). However, following discussions between the Commission and the Indian authorities, the Commission received assurances of improvements in production practices. Since then, no further notifications of contaminated peanuts from India have been received. The Commission, therefore, withdrew this proposal.

Peanuts from Egypt

A similar proposal was put forward in regard to a temporary suspension on the import of peanuts from Egypt following a high number of consignments containing excessive levels of aflatoxin. It is understand that the Commission has received no assurances from the Egyptian authorities of any measures taken to reduce aflatoxin contamination. The Commission will, therefore, proceed with this proposal. The temporary ban on imports will initially be for a period of 4 months, during which time the Commission aim to send a mission to Egypt to investigate the situation. A Statutory Instrument implementing this ban in the UK will be made in due course.

The next Commission Working Group meeting to discuss mycotoxins is planned for 23 April.

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