Dr David Jukes, The University of Reading, UK

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Food Law News - EU - 2016

FSA Legislative Update, 5 October 2016

CONTAMINANTS - September 2016 legislative update on chemical contaminants in food

A number of issues have been discussed in early September at European Commission working group meetings and a summary of each issue if provided below for information.

Draft Regulation on Maximum Limits for Mercury

The intention of the Commission is to bring the controls on mercury out of the pesticides legislation and into contaminants legislation. There are also some changes to the maximum levels (ML) for fish. The Commission held a formal stakeholder consultation held over the summer. There remains some discussion around some of the proposed MLs, particularly baby food containing fish where the Commission plans to consult directly with relevant EU stakeholders to ascertain what is achievable. The Commission has decided to simplify fish species/taxonomy descriptions as it was getting overly complex; there is also still some movement of fish species between categories proposed. Commission has decided not to establish a ML for tea as the data provided indicates no significant transfer to the brewed and consumed drink. There will be further discussion at the expert committee meeting later in the year after which a formal proposal will go to standing committee (November at the earliest).

Acrylamide Regulatory Proposal

 The Commission presented an amended proposal based on feedback from the stakeholder consultation.  This is broadly supported by the member states but will be further discussed at the next expert committee meeting before progressing to standing committee The Regulation is proposed to be made under Article 4 of Regulation 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs and mandates that food business operators will be required to take account of strict new industry codes of practice for mitigating acrylamide formation as part of their food safety management systems.

MCPD and Glycidyl Esters Regulatory Proposals

Having now completed the stakeholder consultation over the summer EU Commission intends to vote on a proposal in the November standing committee on the MLs for oils and also in infant formula. It is proposed that 3 MCPD ester MLs would not apply until March 2018 at the earliest as they are considered more challenging to meet. The Commission may consider limiting oil MLs to refined oils as this is where the main problem arises. The proposal will be further discussed at the next expert committee meeting.

Draft Recommendation on Monitoring of Mineral Oil Hydrocarbons

This draft recommendation has been discussed at Commission meetings of Member State experts on food contact materials environmental and industrial contaminants. The recommendation has been adapted and the Commission intends to endorse at the next Standing Committee in November. The purpose of the recommendation is to encourage data collection for mineral oils in foods and to also to investigate sources of contamination. As the analytical methodology for mineral oils is very complex this will be supported by technical guidance on analysis and interpretation of results.

Recommendation on the Reduction of the Presence of Cadmium in Foodstuffs

The Commission has recently reminded Member States of Recommendation 2014/193/EU on the reduction of the presence of cadmium in foodstuffs Maximum limits for cadmium will be reviewed again in 2018/19 and it is expected that food business operators and producers will have taken any appropriate mitigation efforts. The maximum limits will be reviewed in light of the data in the EFSA database with a view to reducing them as EFSA has previously indicated that consumer exposures to cadmium should be reduced where possible. UK stakeholder organisations therefore have an opportunity to make data available to EFSA for this purpose if they wish. They may also wish to consider providing the data and sector based reports or other support materials to the FSA to inform future discussions.

Other Recommendations on Monitoring for Contaminants in Food

There are currently also Recommendations on monitoring for Nickel (Commission Recommendation (EU) 2016/1111), and Arsenic (Commission Recommendation (EU) 2015/1381) ahead of future discussions on possible risk management measures. UK stakeholder organisations therefore have an opportunity to provide data and other information for this purpose and are strongly recommended to do so.

Cyanogenic glycosides in raw apricot kernels

The FSA recently issued advice that bitter apricot kernels including the powdered forms should not be eaten as they could contain high levels of amygdalin - a cyanogenic glycoside which produces cyanide upon their degradation. We also advised that sweet apricot kernels, bitter almond kernels and powdered forms are not eaten, as cyanide can be present in these also. This followed a scientific opinion published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that evaluated the risks to human health associated with the presence of cyanide from apricot kernels and derived products.

Discussions are taking place at European level to manage the risk to consumers and a maximum level (ML) of 20 mg/kg has been proposed by the Commission for cyanide levels in raw apricot kernels. Food Business Operators (FBOs) would also be required to provide evidence of compliance of their product with the ML. The proposal is expected to be finalised in the next couple of months.

The Commission is proposing that the MLs will not apply to bitter almonds; although they contain high levels of cyanide and the FSA advice that they are not eaten raw still stands. Bitter almonds are generally not eaten raw and are generally subject to further processing/cooking as ingredients.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) in honey, tea, herbal infusions and food supplements

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are toxins found naturally in a wide variety of plant species and are produced by plants as a defence mechanism against herbivores. They are widely distributed and affect wildlife, livestock and humans. Cases of human toxicity have been shown to occur following contamination of staple foods, generally grain crops which are accidentally contaminated with PA containing weeds, and after consumption of some herbal remedies. Other possible food sources of exposure include milk, honey, offal and eggs, although cases of human poisoning resulting from exposure through these sources have not been reported.

The main toxic effects of PAs are on the liver and lungs. A sub group of PAs such as the 1, 2-unsaturated PAs are genotoxic and those that have been tested cause liver cancer in experimental animals. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that 1, 2-unsaturated PAs may act as carcinogens in humans. Therefore, there is no safe level of exposure and exposure should be reduced to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP).

PAs have been found in some teas, herbal infusions, herbal food supplements and honey. Exposure to these levels of PAs could be a risk to health and efforts should be taken to minimize PA content in these foods. Therefore the Commission has suggested that MLs are set for PAs in relevant foods and possible levels will be discussed over the next few months.

Morphine in poppy seeds

The opium poppy plant contains narcotic alkaloids such as morphine and codeine. Poppy seeds themselves do not contain the opium alkaloids, but can become contaminated with alkaloids as a result of insect damage, or through poor harvesting practices. EFSA has established an acute reference dose of 10 μg morphine/kg body weight. Estimates of dietary exposure to morphine from foods containing poppy seed indicate that the ARfD can be exceeded during a single serving by some consumers, across the EU.

The Commission has published a Recommendation of good practice to prevent and to reduce the presence of opium alkaloids in poppy seeds and poppy seed products. For instance it is known that processing such as washing, grinding and heating can reduce the levels of morphine in poppy seeds by up to 90%.

In order to protect consumers from adverse effects of morphine and other opium alkaloids in poppy seeds, the Commission is considering setting a target level of 10 mg/kg. This would apply to poppy seeds and products containing poppy seeds as sold to the consumer. If products containing levels greater than this level were found, action can be taken if a risk assessment indicates a health concern.

Ergot alkaloids in cereals and cereal products

When the Commission considered the risk to human health from ergot alkaloids in cereals and cereal products, maximum levels were set for ergot sclerotia as a first step whilst further data on the presence of ergot alkaloids were collected. Member States and professional stakeholder organisations were strongly recommended to report to EFSA their findings on ergot alkaloids by 30 September 2016.

The Commission has now requested EFSA to carry out an exposure assessment from the data submitted and will then consider the setting of appropriate and achievable maximum levels in due course.

PAHs in banana chips, dried herbs and spices and supplements

Limits for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have been introduced for banana chips, dried herbs and spices and certain types of supplement. These are set out in Commission Regulation 2015/1933 and came into force on 1 April 2016 (limits do not apply to products placed on the market before this date). The limits for spices do not apply to smoked dried capsicum species.

PAH limits for supplements had been under discussion since 2006, when the first PAH limits in food were introduced, because high levels had already been reported in some products, mainly botanical and algal. Dried herbs and spices were later included for consideration as there is some product overlap with supplements. In most cases, poor drying practices are thought to be the reason for PAH contamination, although other sources are not ruled out.

Coconut oil is at risk of PAH contamination because its thermal instability makes purification more difficult. High PAH levels have periodically been reported in banana chips fried in coconut oil and limits for these were first considered in 2014.

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