Brussels cautioned the withdrawal, effective immediately, covered all fresh produce that had been treated with substance. But it said it would accept a transition period of up to three months for fruits whose peels were not normally eaten to allow suppliers to comply with the regulation.
The announcement follows a clampdown by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) which saw it order the withdrawal of apples from sale and their return to the country of origin. The alarm was raised after the body found the unapproved additive on imported Chilean fruit. The FSA said it had last week contacted the EC, which today said it had initiated similar action across the EU.
Freshfel, the trade body representing fresh fruit and vegetable supply chain in Europe, told FoodProductionDaily.com there should be regulatory harmonisation over the status of morpholine and that it had called a strategy meeting on the issue. The UK Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) said it believed the substance was a processing agent rather than an additive, and has vowed to challenge the FSA on the matter.
Morpholine is used as a carrier for glazing agents applied to fruit and is permitted in various countries outside of the EU, including Chile, the USA and Canada. It is, however, not allowed on foodstuffs in the EU as it has not been through a risk assessment procedure included on a positive list of food additives. Exposure to morpholine at the levels detected on fruit is likely to be of low risk to consumers, said the FSA.
A Commission official told FoodProductionDaily.com it was unable to estimate how much fresh produce would be affected by the move but said it knew that 100,000 tons of South African citrus fruit treated with morpholine was currently in the EU export supply chain.
The EC said it would it would inform all relevant parties and had asked Freshfel to inform all exporters to the EU to take the necessary compliance measures.
Freshfel general delegate Philippe Binard confirmed it had already passed the necessary information to suppliers who would now be trying to find alternative produce sources.
But he added: “There should be global harmonisation of regulations for morpholine between Europe and other major markets such as the United States.”
Binard said the industry group would be holding a strategy meeting on the issue at the end of the month. The debate was likely to centre on whether to lobby the EC to change the status of the substance from an additive to a processing agent or whether a dossier should be submitted to apply for authorisation as an additive under EC Regulation 1333/2008, he added.
“It is a complex issue and we have to go step by step,” he said.