EFSA publishes an overview report on chemicals in food for 2015.

  • As requested by the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published for the first time a report on chemicals found in food. This exercise will be repeated every year and will cover two topics:  (1) pesticide residues in food, and (2) veterinary drug residues in animals and food. Also, it will contain supplementary parts – this year EFSA analyzed arsenic levels found in food and drinking water, and ethyl carbamate levels in spirit drinks.
  • The report addresses chemical concentrations based on two annual reports (pesticide residuesand veterinary drug residues) as well as two ad hoc reports published during this period: one on arsenic in food and drinking water, and the other on ethyl carbamate in spirit drinks. The conclusions are as follows:
    • Pesticide residue levels in food have continued to decrease since 2012, and in 2013 only 1,5% of samples tested by EFSA exceeded the maximum residue levels for the EU. Organic food and baby-food possess the lowest pesticide residue levels, and the highest levels were found in tea leaves, peppers and tomatoes (among others). In its analysis EFSA used a model called PRIMo (the Pesticide Residue Intake Model) to estimate exposure of European consumers to pesticide residues. The expected exposure was then compared with guidance levels for acceptable exposure, known as toxicological reference values. This analysis brought EFSA to the conclusion that the probability of being exposed to pesticide residues at levels that pose a health risk is low in the short term. The long-term exposure estimates were concluded with a statement that residues, according to the current scientific knowledge, are not likely to pose a chronic health risk.
    • Compliance with maximum veterinary drug residues in animals and food has also increased steadily since 2007. The recent horsemeat scandal drew attention to the safety of meat. Accordingly, the use of veterinary drugs in food-producing animals was monitored very closely. The results of the studies showed that the situation is largely under control.
    • EFSA also spoke of organic and inorganic arsenic, residues of which can be found in some foodstuffs. EFSA analyzed the residues of two types of arsenic – inorganic and organic. Organic arsenic is considered less harmful for human health. Inorganic arsenic levels in the EU are still quite high in rice (white and brown). Therefore rice requires a thorough wash before cooking, as well as a large quantity of cooking water in order to reduce the arsenic concentration. 98% of Europe’s drinking water is under the EU limit for arsenic, except in territories with volcanic soils. Also, fish and seafood turn out to be a source of arsenic, but in those cases the arsenic occurs as the less harmful, organic form.
    • EFSA also notes that Ethyl carbamate levels in alcoholic beverages (that appear during food processing and/or storing and may cause cancer in humans) also appear to be on a downward trend since 2007.
  • The report is aimed at non-specialists and provides an overview of the available information. The overall outcome appears to be positive. The report has been welcomed with appreciation by the European Commission.  The acting Director General for Health and Food Safety, Ladislav Miko said: “This new report aimed at the European public translates complex scientific data on food in a more accessible and understandable way. I very much welcome this new way of reporting on issues that matter to people who are concerned about what’s in their food and hope we will see more of this type of food information from EFSA in the future.

Stakeholders call for action of the European Commission on trans fatty acids.

  • Members of the European Parliament (MEP) Heart Group, with the support of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and of the European Heart Network (EHN) organized a panel debate with representatives of the European Commission and WHO Europe to discuss the situation on trans fatty acids in the EU. The debate took place on April 15th, 2015.
  • Under the Regulation 1169/2011/EU the European Commission was to present by 13 December 2014 a report on the presence of trans fats in foods and in overall diet in the EU population. The report has not been issued so far. According to the press releases the Commission informed during the debate that it is considering how to handle the trans fats, i.e. whether to issue legislation that would ban the use of industrial trans fatty acids. The report by the Commission is due to be issued in June 2015.
  • Many stakeholders await the Commission’s report, as its findings may have significant ramifications both within and outside the EU.