Food Law News - EU - 1999

24 November 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

MAFF Letter, 24 November 1999

Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

Previous discussions were reported in a letter of the 21 September regarding the progress with EC discussions on harmonised controls for ochratoxin A (OA) and aflatoxins. These discussions were continued on 23 November at the meeting of the Commission Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants.

Ochratoxin A

A draft proposal with possible regulatory limits for OA in certain commodities was presented by the Commission. The proposed limits reflected discussions in September, although with some changes to the figures previously discussed to accommodate views from Member States and within the Commission. The Commission asked Member States to consider each proposed limit so that a draft could be agreed before sending it for wider consultation e.g. to the World Trade Organisation.

For cereals, a dual limit was proposed: 5 mg/kg for cereals (including buckwheat), bran and wholemeal flour and 3 mg/kg for cereal products, including malt. However, several Member States maintained their preferences as given in September. Views were split about evenly between three options: a single limit of 5 mg/kg OA for cereals and cereal products, a single lower limit of 3 mg/kg and support for the Commission's proposed dual limit. Those in favour of single limits were of the opinion that a dual limit would be unduly complex and might allow for grey areas. The Commission said it would aim to provide a compromise using the dual limit, by clearly specifying product types to be covered by the lower limit.

For other commodities the following limits or provisions were proposed:

Roasted coffee beans and coffee products 3 mg/kg. Member States had previously doubted the need for a separate limit on raw green coffee and so it was withdrawn. To allow for possible problems of concentrating ochratoxin A when products are made from raw coffee, a limit of 3 mg/kg was included in place of the previous 4 mg/kg.

Table wine and grape juice both 0.5 mg/kg to apply after 31 December 2002 to allow for scientific and technological developments by the industries. Grape juice is frequently drunk by children in some Member States and the Commission and those Member States with concerns felt that wine and grape juice should have the same limits. However, the industry would need time to make these limits achievable. The need to clearly define the wine types and whether to include dessert wines was highlighted.

Beer 0.2 mg/kg. Previous doubts on whether a limit is needed for beer were maintained by some Member States as the cereal raw materials would already be covered. However, the cereal provisions would not cover imported beers.

Dried vine fruit 5 mg/kg to be applicable from 1 January 2003 was proposed. However, following evidence provided by the UK, there was general support to place a higher limit of 10 mg/kg with immediate effect of the Regulation being agreed, to be reviewed in line with scientific and technological developments and possibly reduced to 5 mg/kg with effect from 1 January 2003.

Spices (paprika, pepper, nutmeg and ginger) no limit for now, but spices would be listed as commodities to be considered for possible future limits when more information on occurrence of ochratoxin A becomes available.

Limits for cocoa and cocoa powder (2 mg/kg) and for cocoa products including chocolate (1 mg/kg) were listed in the proposal. However, the majority of Member States felt that the proposed limits were too low to be achievable by the industry. If limits were necessary for cocoa and chocolate they should be realistic based upon scientific data.. The Commission agreed and would reconsider the need for limits.


The Commission presented a draft regulation with limits for aflatoxins in spices. Member States confirmed their general agreement on the proposed separate limits of 5 mg/kg for aflatoxin B 1 and 10 mg/kg total aflatoxins. This would apply to the following spices where contamination was considered to be highest:

Whole or ground dried fruits of the Capsicum family i.e. chillies, chilli powder, cayenne and paprika; pepper (black and white); nutmeg; ginger.

Turmeric was considered in September, but the Commission excluded it from the proposal because available information did not indicate a major problem in this spice. The limits would apply to these spices with no separate provisions for spices to be sorted or further processed. The UK questioned this as certain processes (e.g. oleoresin production) for spices could reduce contamination considerably. The Commission agreed to consider this point.

Deoxynivalenol (DON)

The Netherlands had previously raised concerns on recent high levels of DON in cereal products eaten by children. The Commission asked Member States to consider the available information and to provide any additional national data as soon as possible. The Scientific Committee for Food would be evaluating information on this in the near fliture.

The next Working Group meeting to discuss mycotoxins Will be 10 December.

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