Food Law News - EU - 2008

EP Article, 7 July 2008

FLAVOURINGS - Mojca Drcar Murko MEP: natural herbs and spices protected under new food rules

Monday sees MEPs debate new rules for authorising food additives, flavourings and enzymes. Ahead of the debate we spoke to Slovene MEP Mojca Drcar Murko (ALDE) about her report which deals with flavourings. To date around 2600 natural and artificial flavourings have been registered. The new legislation introduces stricter conditions for the use of the term “natural” when describing flavourings. They shall be deemed natural only if 95% of the flavouring element is of natural origin.

A disputed category in the new regulatory proposal is "certain food ingredients with flavouring properties", particularly herbs and spices. Many of them are traditionally used as food or food ingredients (such as basil, nutmeg and aniseed). The new legislation sets out clearer rules of maximum levels for "undesirable substances" (some herbs and spices that some studies have shown to be dangerous) that might be present in flavourings as they occur in plants that are used in food.

Ahead of the debate we put a few questions to Ms Drcar Murko:

Why were you against the proposal of the Commission to include herbs and spices in the new legislation on flavourings?

The proposal on the exclusion of herbs and spices was put in by the Green group in the parliament and in the first reading it was supported by almost half of the members of the Parliament. I did not support it. I proposed a compromise solution whose aim was to acquire evidence that would show that particular herbs and spices are dangerous for people's health, if they are eaten in too large quantities.

Tests on animals have shown that herbs and spices can be carcinogenic. If so are they not dangerous then?

The tests on mice, on the basis of which Commission supported its proposal, were carried on exclusively on the so called biological active parts, which are substances, which appear in the nature. They were not carried on the herbs and spices themselves. These herbs and spices – for examples basil, nutmeg, aniseed and others - have been consumed by people for centuries without noticeably bad effects. Nature has also re-established defensive mechanisms and some of the latest test showed that the noxious substances in the tested herbs are not only neutral but they can also be anti-carcinogenic.

Could it happen that (for example) pesto and cinnamon rolls could vanish from our supermarkets shelves?

Pesto with its considerable share of basil will not vanish from our supermarkets shelves as the Commission permitted an exemption to Italy in the framework of "traditional products" in which it will not be needed to limit the quantity of the herbs and spices.

Producers will probably have to exchange the natural cinnamon with a flavouring of the cinnamon, so that they will not have any problems with the maximum allowed values. According to some data, the consumption of cinnamon in Germany has decreased for 30 percent last year and in Great Britain similar prepared food, such as muesli, cinnamon is not used at all any more - only in cinnamon flavouring.

Other reports of the package that will be debated on Monday:

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