foodwatch: crucial step for food safety, but no detection at all should be tolerated
EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF Committee) has agreed to restrict mineral oils in all foodstuffs. In its meeting on the 21st of April the Committee decided to set limits for aromatic mineral oils (MOAH), which are potentially carcinogenic and genotoxic. The European consumer organisation foodwatch welcomed the decision as a crucial step for food safety in Europe, but asked for a stricter limit in plant oils. foodwatch has campaigned against the contamination of foodstuffs with mineral oils for years, demonstrating the widespread occurrence of the harmful substances in various laboratory tests. Before the contamination levels can be legally binding, EFSA will release a revised risk assessment on mineral oils at the end of 2022.
“The widespread occurrence of harmful mineral oils in foodstuffs has been known for years. Still the food giants Danone, Nestlé and Unilever played down the issue of food contamination with mineral oil against the public health of millions of European citizens. Finally, the experts are convinced that we need maximum limits for all foodstuffs. This is not yet enough to fully protect European consumers. We will closely follow the EFSA risk assessment to see that it goes a step further than the statement: there should be no detectable MOAH in any foodstuff in the European Union. With carcinogenic contaminants even a small amount is too much. Technology exists to detect low levels of MOAH – if any detection at all, the foodstuff must be taken off the shelves”, says Matthias Wolfschmidt for foodwatch international.
The PAFF Committee, composed by representatives of all EU countries and the European Commission, decided to set maximum limits of quantification (LOQs). The limits are effective immediately, but are not legally binding yet. The Member States can decide if they enforce the new requirements.
For dry foods with a low fat/oil content of equal or less than 4%, 0.5 mg/kg of MOAH is allowed; for foods with a higher fat/oil content of more than 4%, 1 mg/kg of MOAH is allowed; and 2 mg/kg of MOAH is permitted for fats and oils.
foodwatch underlined that the technology exists to detect 1mg of MOAH even in plant oils. According to the organisation, the rules should say that no detectable MOAH can be present in any foodstuff in the European Union. Therefore the 2mg LOQ in plant oils is too high.
foodwatch started its campaign against toxic mineral oils in foodstuffs in 2015. In 2021, the organisation analysed 152 products from Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. It demonstrated that one in eight products tested was contaminated. But the respective companies took no action and continued to sell the products. The consumer organisation urged EU’s PAFF Committee to take immediate action.
The published statement of the PAFF Committee in which the commission and member states decided to move ahead with the statement in advance of the updated EFSA risk assessment is a step in the right direction. But the next step must be to establish a binding regulation to ensure no detectable MOAH in any foodstuffs in the EU.
Sources and additional information:
- Draft joint statement of the Member States regarding the presence of Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOAH) in food, 21 April 2022
- foodwatch 2021 report "Toxic mineral oli in food" with all test results
- Technical foodwatch report 2021
- foodwatch FAQ on mineral oil
- Foodnavigator article “A tough move for industry: Europe sets MOAH limits in food effective immediately