Food Law News - EU - 1999

13 December 1999: CONTAMINANTS - Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

MAFF Letter, 13 December 1999

Mycotoxins - EC Permitted Levels

Previous discussions were reported in the letter of the 24 November regarding the progress with EC discussions on harmonised controls for ochratoxin A (OA), aflatoxins and deoxynivalenol (DON). These discussions were continued on 10 December at the meeting of the Commission Working Group on Agricultural Contaminants.

1. Ochratoxin A

The Commission presented a draft regulation with possible regulatory limits for QA in certain foods. The proposed limits reflected discussions in November. The Commission asked Member States to consider the details of the draft regulation in advance of sending it to the Standing Committee for agreement before sending it to the World Trade Organisation. Each Member State supported the document in general terms, although some points on the limits and the wording of footnotes were still to be resolved. The following limits or provisions were proposed:

For cereals, the Commission proposed a revised dual limit of 5 mg/kg for cereals and products not for direct human consumption and 3 mg/kg for cereal products for direct human consumption. This was a compromise for Member States which previously favoured a single limit but were evenly split between a single limit of 5 mg/kg or a single lower limit of 3 mg/kg both for cereals and products. Member States maintained their first preferences as given in November, but also gave compromise positions. Some agreed with the Commission's revised dual limit, but a majority favoured a dual limit of 5 mg/kg for cereals and 3 mg/kg for all derived products. Two alternative possibilities were briefly discussed: a single limit of 4 mg/kg; an immediate single limit of 5 mg/kg to be reduced after two or three years to 3 mg/kg. However, neither of these alternatives received much support. The Commission agreed to consider the opinions and redraft the cereal limits accordingly.

Roasted coffee beans and coffee products 3 mg/kg. Points raised in a letter from the British Soluble Coffee Packers and Importers Association were discussed regarding whether instant coffee should be included. Concentration factors, volumes consumed and patterns of consumption within the EU were considered. Member States felt that instant should be regulated as well as roasted coffee otherwise instant coffee might provide a loophole for using contaminated coffee. Member States agreed to consider whether a higher limit for instant coffee would be appropriate.

Dried vine fruit 10 mg/kg initially, to be reduced to 5 mg/kg after 31 December 2003 unless information is provided before that date to indicate otherwise.

Beer 0.2 mg/kg. The Commission acknowledged that some Member States had doubts on whether a limit is needed for beer because the cereal raw materials would already be covered. However, the limit remained in the proposal because cereal provisions would not cover imported beers.

Table wine and grape juice both 0.5 mg/kg to apply after 31 December 2002 unless information is provided before that date to indicate otherwise. This would allow for scientific and technological developments by the industries. The wine types included would be determined based upon new information provided between now and December 2002.

Delayed limits were proposed for cocoa and cocoa powder (2 mg/kg) and for cocoa products including chocolate (0.5 mg/kg) to come into effect after 31 December 2002 unless data are provided before that date to indicate otherwise. The Commission had reduced the limit in chocolate to 0.5 mg/kg from 1 mg/kg as proposed in November because this appeared to be achievable based upon available data. The Commission acknowledged that the low limit might be increased to allow for chocolate with high percentage cocoa solids.

Spices (paprika, pepper, nutmeg and ginger) were deleted from the proposal due to insufficient data on their contributions to OA in the diet. This position will be reviewed in the future.

A proposed sampling plan for the official control of ochratoxin A was discussed. It was a scaled-down version of the aflatoxin plan which allows for the smaller consignment volumes and smaller particle sizes of the foods concerned. The UK expressed concerns about the complexity of the plan particularly since sampling would not be carried out at import for commodities produced in the EU. Member States agreed to consider the details of the plan.

2. Aflatoxins

A draft Commission Regulation with limits for aflatoxins in certain spices (separate limits of 5 mg/kg for aflatoxin B 1 and 10 mg/kg total aflatoxins) gained general support from Member States. A draft Directive with a sampling plan for spices was discussed and revised to allow for lot sizes in practice not exceeding 20 tonnes. Both documents would be discussed at the next Standing Committee meeting. The new measures would apply to whole or ground dried fruits of the Capsicum family i.e. chillies, chilli powder, cayenne and paprika; pepper (black and white); nutmeg; ginger.

The Commission confirmed that the temporary ban on importtng Egyptian peanuts had expired and new conditions had been imposed for fliture imports.

3. Deoxynivalenol (DON)

The Netherlands had raised concerns on recent high levels of DON in cereal products eaten by children. The EC Scientific Committee on Food had recently considered this mycotoxin and had set a temporary Tolerable Daily Intake of 1 mg/kg body weight. However, limited data is available on which to firmly base any recommendations for DON. The Dutch wished to set a limit of 1 ppm for DON in cereals. The Commission asked Member States to consider the suitability of setting a provisional limit. In addition, further to a letter submitted by an independent expert, Mr Keith Scudamore, the Commission agreed with the UK that any new studies or investigations into DON should also include mycotoxins associated with DON.

The next Working Group meeting to discuss mycotoxins will be 8 February.

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