The latest draft of a proposed EU amendment to the bloc's regulation on contaminants widens the scope of limits on heavy metals and mycotoxins in foods, as part of the changes.
The proposed new regulation consolidates and replaces European Commission regulation 466/2001 and its previous amendments. It would require food processors to take greater care in the sourcing of the ingredients used in their products.
The latest draft document was discussed at a Commission working group meeting on 19 July 2006 and is due to be voted on at a standing committee on 5 September 2006. The new regulation is expected to apply from 1 March 2007, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said in opening up public debate on the draft.
The Commission has widened the scope of the original legislation. In addition, the maximum limit for lead in fish has been revised and certain foodstuffs have now been excluded from parts of the legislation.
One amendment applies to dried, diluted, processed and compound foodstuffs. It would require food businesses to provide data on the specific concentration or dilution factors used for their products.
If a regulator decides a business is not in compliance then it may may apply a concentration or dilution factor deemed to be "most appropriate" for the protection of public health.
"The Commission has indicated that in the future they would consider developing a table of general processing factors which can be applied if no other information is available," the FSA noted.
Specific rules have been added for products which can be used for feed and food or other purposes. Maximum levels laid down for contaminants as specified in the regulation would apply to groundnuts, derivatives, and cereals.
Businesses must clearly indicate the intended use of their products on the label of each individual packing or on the accompanying document, which must have a clear link with the consignment.
An amendment on mycotoxins widens the scope of the limits on deoxynivalenol and zearalenone to include bran and germ intended for direct human
Bran and germ were originally intended to be covered by the regulations limits for fusarium toxins in cereals and cereal products. However, the limits were inadvertently omitted from the published regulations, which came into force on the 1 July 2006.
The Commission stated that bran for direct human consumption should be sourced carefully just like ingredients for baby foods.
Another amendment on heavy metals widens the scope of the limits on lead, which currently only applies to cow's milk. Under the new regulation the maximum level will apply to all farmed animals, including sheep and goat milk. Milk products including cheese are already covered under the regulation.
The maximum level for lead in fish has been revised to bring it into line with the recently agreed international Codex limit of 300 mg/kg. The change represents an increase in the general EC limit for fish, currently at 200 mg/kg, and a decrease in the limit for specified fish species, currently at 400 mg/kg.
The FSA wants comments on whether the reduction to 300 mg/kg from 400 mg/kg is achievable particularly for the older, larger fish. The FSA also wants comments on whether the increase in the general limit to 300 mg/kg from 200 mg/kg is acceptable to consumers.
"Fish consumed in the UK generally contain lead levels much below this level and the change in limit will have little practical effect on consumer exposure," the FSA stated. "Lead exposure from fish at the proposed higher level would still be well within recommended maximum intakes."
In the case of cadmium, the maximum levels for liver (500 mg/kg) and kidney (1000 mg/kg) will also apply to the parts from horses.
Currently a maximum level of 50 mg/kg for cadmium applies to fruit including edible nuts. However, data from the UK's and other member states monitoring programmes have shown that the current limit is inappropriate and unachievable for pine nuts. The Commission plans to exclude pine nuts from the legislation.
A new limit will be established once further data on the presence of cadmium in pine nuts is available.
The current limits on dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in poultry and farmed game has also been amended. The FSA believes it was the intention that the category referred to farmed game birds but the drafting and the changing legal definition of game has created confusion.
The proposal to remove farmed game from the regulation will mean that limits will not apply to categories such as rabbit, venison, pheasant, and other birds such as ostriches, some of which might have previously been within the scope of the regulation.
"It is not proposed to make proposals for limits for these categories unless contaminated products are considered to be a risk to consumers or until further data are available," the FSA stated.
The deadline for comments is 25 August 2006.