EU moves to restrict Ukrainian sunflower oil imports
Ukrainian sunflower oil following the recent discovery that some
products were contaminated.
France alerted the Brussels authorities on 23 April that it had discovered high levels of mineral oil in sunflower oil imported from Ukraine. The oil had been re-exported from France to Spain, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands, which also registered contaminated batches. On 30 April, following advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU's food safety watchdog, the Commission urged national food authorities to remove all the contaminated Ukrainian oil from sale, as well as any products containing more than 10 percent of the oil as an ingredient. On 16 May, following further investigations, Brussels recommended that all imports of sunflower oil from Ukraine should be stopped until assurances came from Kiev that tighter controls had been put in place. These guarantees have now been received from the Ukrainian authorities, which have pledged to ensure that all sunflower oil destined for the EU will be tested for mineral oils. The sampling procedures will be verified by Brussels to ensure that they meet EU standards, and all oil imports will be checked again by member states once they arrive in Europe, according to a statement issued on behalf of EU health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou. These restrictions will remain in place for up to a year, the commission said. With Ukraine recently joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and keen to eventually join the EU, the Brussels authorities were eager to stress that they had avoided any suggestion of an 'embargo' on imports from Ukraine. And a spokeswoman for Vassiliou dismissed suggestions that the complaints brought by EU companies were a form of unfair competition, designed to stop cheaper imports of sunflower oil from Ukraine. The spokeswoman said that the Commission had no comment to make on the alleged complaints, and that in any case it had worked closely with the Ukrainian authorities to agree a new system of controls that ensured that oil exports to the EU could continue as quickly as possible. She added that discussions would continue with Kiev - not least because the authorities there are still trying to establish the initial cause of the contamination. It is still unclear whether the mineral oil was added deliberately or as the result of an accident, and the spokeswoman stressed that this was a matter for Kiev to resolve. "Our top priority was to protect the health of EU consumers: the source of the contamination was a secondary issue for us," she said. She added that EU health authorities would nonetheless discuss whether it was possible to set clear rules for the maximum limit of mineral oils in sunflower oil across the EU. "There are currently no legal limits for the presence of mineral oils in sunflower oil," she said. "Mineral oil may naturally occur in sunflower oil in quantities of up to 160 parts per milligram, because it is naturally present in the atmosphere, so it is difficult to set limits. "But this will be discussed by the competent authorities in the coming weeks," she added. She also confirmed that a batch of Ukrainian sunflower oil shipped before the new controls were agreed, and currently waiting off the coast of Greece, would not be allowed to enter the EU.