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Additive inspectors pay a visit to Danish food firms

By Jess Halliday , 14-May-2010

Denmark’s food ministry Fødevarestyrelsen is kicking off a nationwide inspection of additive use and labelling in sweets and soft drinks this month.

The campaign will involve inspection of around 150 wholesalers, manufacturers and importers of food products. The inspectors will be looking to see whether companies are using only the sweeteners, dyes and preservatives that are permitted and at correct levels.

They will also look at how additives are labelled and products, and samples will be sent to Fødevarestyrelsen’s laboratories for analysis. The results are expected to be published in September.

Ministry spokesperson Birgit Bønsager said the audit is focusing in sectors and products where companies have traditionally found it difficult to meet regulatory requirements. She said that firms are mentored about the rules, but if they are found to violate them intentionally action could range from a reminder to a fine.

Label screening

In March this year Fødevarestyrelsen reported the findings of a 2009 survey on additives and labelling in Denmark, which covered a wider sample of 475 companies. It found that while most were in compliance, one in ten were not following the rules to the letter.

Altogether the inspectors found 43 cases that gave cause for concerns. These including using the wrong E-number or additive name on labels – and in one case a company was fined because the product label made no mention of additives at all.

Political concern

Some prominent politicians in Denmark have been calling for curbs on use of additives. In particular Social Democrat consumer spokesman Benny Engelbrecht is quoted by as arguing for a position on additives that resembles Germany’s stringent ‘purity’ laws for certain foods. For instance, Germany does not permit use of the preservative nitrite in ham.

Engelbrecht is reported to have asked agriculture and food minister Henrik Høegh to consider phasing out monosodium glutamate (MSG).

While the precise reasons for his call for action on this additive in particular are not clear from, the politician’s mistrust of all additives appears to have been magnified by concerns over, unrelated, additives. There has been considerable controversy in Denmark recently over so-called ‘meat glue’, bovine and porcine thrombin to bind together meat morsels into one piece. Thrombin received a positive safety opinion from EFSA in 2005, but has never been approved for use in the EU and environment MEPs last month voted to veto its approval on the grounds that consumers could be misled.

The thrombin question will be put to the vote by all MEPs at next week’s parliament session in Strasbourg.

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