Food Law News - UK - 2000

24 May 2000: IRRADIATION - Food Irradiation


FSA Letter and FSA Scotland Letter, 24 May 2000

Food Irradiation

In February 1999 the European Council and the European Parliament published two EC Directives on foods and food ingredients treated with ionising radiation in the Official Journal of the European Communities. All Member States are required to implement these Directives by September 2000.

EC Directive 1999/2/EC lays down the general provisions such as the conditions for treatment, the rules governing the approval and control of irradiation and the labelling of foodstuffs that have been treated with ionising radiation. EC Directive 1999/3/EC establishes an initial positive list of foodstuffs, which could be treated with ionising radiation and freely traded across the whole European Community.

These Directives will be implemented in England/Scotland by a new Statutory Instruments, the Food Irradiation Provisions (England) Regulation 2000 and the Food Irradiation Provisions (Scotland) Regulation 2000. Comments are invited on this by 30 June 2000 (Scotland) or 19 July 2000 (England).

We are also seeking comments on the draft guidance notes and want to hear from business on how it views the likely financial impact of the implementation. The Agency is particularly keen to receive comments from small businesses in this respect. A copy of the Draft Guidance Notes for Scotland is given below.

DRAFT GUIDANCE NOTES: FOOD IRRADIATION LEGISLATION
(Scottish Version)

Important note - These notes have been produced with the aim of providing informal, non-statutory guidance and should be read in conjunction with the appropriate Regulations. Every effort has been made to ensure that these guidance notes are as helpful as possible.

INTRODUCTION

These Notes refer to the following four pieces of legislation [although 5 are given in the draft notes]:

What is Food Irradiation?

Commercial food irradiation is normally carried out using electron beams generated by machines or gamma rays emitted from the element Cobalt-60. When food is exposed to ionising radiation charged molecules called ions are produced along with short-lived molecules, known as free radicals. These molecules kill many micro-organisms and also interact with the food itself. It is the action of these molecules rather than the radiation itself that is responsible for the preservative effects of food irradiation.

Food irradiation can be used to kill pathogenic organisms in a range of foods including herbs and spices, poultry meat and shellfish. It can also be used to reduce spoilage, to delay ripening in fruit, and to prevent sprouting in vegetables such as potatoes and onions.

THE PURPOSE OF THE NEW REGULATION

The Food Irradiation Provisions (Scotland) Regulation 2000 implements the two EC directives 1999/2 and 1999/3 that seek to harmonise the control of irradiation across the European Union.

Where will the new Regulation apply?

The Regulation applies only to Scotland. England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will produce their own legislation to implement the two EC Directives, however, we will be working closely with them to ensure consistency.

What are the main provisions of the two EC Directives to be implemented?

The Framework Directive (EC 1999/2) lays down general provisions such as the conditions for treatment, the rules governing the approval and control of irradiation facilities and labelling. The Implementing Directive (EC 1999/3) will establish an initial positive list of foodstuffs which could be treated with ionising radiation and freely traded across the whole Community; at present this contains only dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasoning but may be added to before being finalised. The provisions of the Directives are broadly in line with the current UK legislation and, once implemented, will harmonise controls across the EU. All Member States are required to implement the Directives by September 2000.

Until such time that a final Community list of foods that can be treated with ionising radiation is agreed, EU Member States can maintain their existing national approvals.

IRRADIATED FOODS AVAILABLE IN THE UK

Current national Regulations allow for the treatment of seven categories of food with ionising radiation in the UK. These are: fruit, vegetables, cereals, bulbs and tubers, spices and condiments, fish and shellfish and poultry. However, at present a licence has only been granted for the treatment of certain herbs and spices. Current UK Regulations state that imports of irradiated food will only be allowed from those countries that have satisfied the Licensing Authority that their laws provide the same degree of consumer protection as those which apply in Great Britain. To date no licences have been granted for the import of irradiated food from any country.

What difference will the new regulation make?

Those irradiated foods that are on the positive list created by EC Directive 99/3 can be traded freely within the Community. However, the Framework Directive (EC/99/2) provides a similar level of protection to consumers as existing UK Regulations, in that it states that irradiated foodstuffs traded in the Community or imported from non-EC countries must have been irradiated at an EC approved facility. Such approval can only be obtained by meeting the requirements of an International Code of Practice for the operation of irradiation facilities used for the treatment of foods.

LABELLING OF IRRADIATED FOODS

The Agency is committed to ensuring that consumers are able to choose for themselves whether or not to buy irradiated food. The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (available from HMSO bookshops ref ISBN 0-11-035941-0 price 7.35) and the Food Irradiation Provisions (Scotland) Regulation 2000 require all foods, or listed ingredients of foods, which have been irradiated, to be labelled with the words "irradiated" or "treated with ionising radiation".

Under the Codex General Standard for labelling of pre-packaged Food, food that has been irradiated may be labelled using the international food irradiation (radura) symbol, although this is not compulsory.

The international radura symbol

When food is not pre-packed and is sold for immediate consumption (for example in restaurants), the indication of irradiation must be marked or labelled on a menu, notice, ticket or label that the customer can see when choosing the food. Because of the practical difficulties faced by caterers, they are allowed to indicate that a dish may contain an irradiated food and/or ingredient. This use of "may contain " enables consumers wishing to avoid irradiated food to do so, while allowing caterers to vary supplies without constantly changing notices and menus.

Are there any instances when this is not the case?

Current food labelling Regulations do provide for certain exemptions from listing irradiated food ingredients, although these only apply to compound ingredients (foods used as ingredients that are themselves composed of two or more materials).

These compound ingredients do not have to be listed if:

What difference will the new regulation make?

These exemptions will no longer apply once the new Food Irradiation Provisions (Scotland) Regulations 2000 are introduced later this year.

THE EXISTING LICENSING SYSTEM

Basic guidance for applications can be found in the Schedules at the back of the existing Food (Control of Irradiation) Regulations 1990. Applications will be dealt with on a case by case basis for which a fee will be charged. The charge for a licence is currently 6000, with a fee of 1500 being payable for each additional category of food which is to be added to the licence. At present licences to irradiate food (there has only ever been one in the UK) last for three years, at the end of which companies must apply for a continuation licence which costs 325. Licence holders are subject to an annual inspection for which a fee of 900 per food irradiation premises is payable.

What difference will the new regulation make?

The new Regulation will amend the existing Food (control of irradiation) Regulations 1990 to make irradiation licences continuous, rather than renewable every three years. The fees for license applications and annual inspections have been reduced slightly, reflecting savings gained by bringing control functions within the FSA entirely. The new charge for a licence will only be 5000, with a fee of no greater than 1500 being payable for each additional category of food which is to be added to the licence. Any license holder will still be subject to an annual inspection and the license can be withdrawn or suspended if necessary. A reduced inspection fee of 750 per food irradiation premises is payable.

Methods of payment

Cheques in sterling should be submitted with an application for a food Irradiation licence, or following the inspection of the food irradiation plant (in cases where a licence has already been granted) to the Food Standards Agency (or relevant devolved administration) endorsed 'not negotiable: A/C payee only.'

IMPACT OF DEVOLUTION

Because food irradiation is a devolved matter, each of the devolved administrations are responsible for legislation in their respective countries. In Scotland and Wales, the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales, respectively, have passed responsibility for licensing and policy matters for plants within Scotland and Wales to the Food Standards Agency. In all cases, as with England, if expert advice is required on any aspects of the licensing or policy for food irradiation, the ACNFP and other expert bodies will provide that advice. Further details of the contact points for the other devolved authorities, and England, can be found at the end of these guidance notes.

Northern Ireland

A similar Regulation will be made in Northern Ireland. Further information will be available from the Food Standards Agency: Northern Ireland, the address for which can be found at the end of these guidance notes.


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