Proposed rules on imported foods and feeds of non-animal origin would establish a list of products deemed to need higher regulatory scrutiny at the EU's borders.
Food and drink processors, among others, would face increased costs and time when importing such "high risk" foods.
They would be required to give advance notice when bringing such foods into the EU, and would have to provide more documentation to regulators. They would also have to pay fees for the extra regulatory work.
Such "high risk" foods could include supplies such as imported peanuts, pistachios, and dried fruits from Egypt, China, Iran and Turkey, countries frequently cited for allowing high levels of aflatoxins in their products.
The proposals are set out in a European Commission document that is in the process of being discussed at the national level among EU members. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) yesterday issued a consultation on the proposals.
The EU document deals with implementing rules under Regulation (EC) No 882/2004 on official controls for "high-risk" food and feed products of non-animal origin imported from outside the bloc.
The Commission wants to establish a list of 'high-risk' foods that would be subject to an increased level of scrutiny.
Importers would have to provide more documentation ahead of the arrival of such foods. Specific ports of entry would be designated where such foods could enter the EU.
The Commission also wants importers to pay special fees to cover the additional cost regulators would bear in dealing with the "high risk" foods and feeds.
"The mechanisms for identifying products for inclusion in this list, and for determining the frequency of official controls to which they will be subject, is still not clear," the FSA noted.
Recent discussions at the EU level indicate that information gathered from a variety of sources may be used to determine inclusion on the list.
These include the frequency in which EU food safety alerts are sent out on a particular food through the bloc's rapid alert system, the outcome of Commission's inspections in non-EU countries, and reports from the individual member states.
"Similarly, is it not clear how the Commission propose to keep the list under review so that products may be removed when they no longer represent a known or emerging risk," the FSA added.
The working document is due to be discussed at a Commission committee meeting, expected to be held in later March or early April.
The Commission plans to adopt the implementing rules in June or July of this year, the FSA stated.
The FSA has set a deadline for initial responses from food importers by 21 March. Any other comments should be sent by 24 May 2007.
In 2005, the EU's rapid alert system received a total of 947 notifications from regulators on aflatoxins.
A total of 498 of the notifications related to pistachio nuts, primarily originating from Iran. Aflatoxins were also regularly reported in peanuts and derived products (219 notifications) originating from China (79), Brazil (32), Argentina (22) and Ghana (14).
Within the group of nuts and nut products, 64 notifications concern hazelnuts and derived products originating from Turkey (53) and Azerbaijan (11).
A total of 33 notifications concern almonds and derived products, primarily originating from the US (28).
Within the group of fruits and vegetables, 48 notifications concern dried figs and derived products primarily originating from Turkey (46). Another 13 notifications relate to melon seeds primarily originating from Nigeria (10).
Within the group of herbs and spices, chilli (27), paprika (10), curry (4) and nutmeg (4), were also stopped at the border for high aflatoxin levels.
The products originated primarily from India (27) and to a lesser extent from Turkey (5) and Pakistan (5).
Due to the ongoing problem with Iran the European Commission cracked down on imports from the country and put in place new measures.
All consignments from the country are required to be analysed twice, the first time prior to export by Iran's regulators and the second time prior to import by the EU member state.