Voted by members of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed yesterday (19 June), the proposal would see manufacturers of foods typically high in acrylamide (such as bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, fried potato products and coffee) required to take certain steps reduce its presence "in proportion to the size and nature" of their business.
Acrylamide is a known cancer-causing contaminant which naturally occurs in starchy foods when roasted, baked or fried over 120°C.
Mitigation measures cover the entire farm to fork spectrum, and include measured use of certain fertilisers (which can increase asparagine, the amino acid that converts to acrylamide); specific storage conditions for raw materials or demonstrating cooking temperatures are as low as possible.
Benchmark levels (BLs) are performance indicators used to verify the effectiveness of the mitigation measures, and are specific to different food groups, running from 150 μg/kg for biscuits and rusks destined for small children to 500 μg/kg for ready-to-eat French fries. (Click on the text box for more details)
These are not legally binding, but the Commission has pledged to set binding maximum levels (MLs) for certain foods once this proposal has been adopted, which could be early 2018.
The full proposal and annexes can be downloaded here.
Commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis welcomed the vote, calling it an important step in protecting the health and well-being of EU citizens.
FDE: Concerned that maximum levels seem a certainty
FoodDrinkEurope, the association that represents the interests of food manufacturers, said its members were ready to implement the legislation.
But its director of food policy, science and R&D, Beate Kettlitz, said the benchmark levels were “impractically low” and based on unrepresentative data. FDE members were also concerned that the text "gives certainty to the consideration" of MLs, she said
“The public health objective is to reduce consumer exposure as much as possible; hence we believe food business operators (FBOs) should be working to reduce levels of acrylamide in their products to the lowest levels reasonably achievable rather than on the basis of a static
ML," Kettlitz said.
“We find it crucial for the success of this regulation to allow FBOs to demonstrate their efforts to introduce appropriate mitigation measures and meet BLs before MLs are considered.”
Kettlitz said it was up to enforcement agencies to determine the time-frame necessary for operators to meet benchmark levels, but she added: “The analysis of data is certainly not possible within a few months.”
BEUC: 'No one is asking to ban any food'
EU consumer rights group BEUC, on the other hand, regretted the lack of binding limits in the proposal.
“Our member organisations have found big variations of acrylamide amounts in similar types of foods,” its director general, Monique Goyens, said. “If some manufacturers can bring acrylamide levels down, others can too. No one is asking to ban any food.
“However, we remain convinced binding limits are needed if we are to effectively protect consumers. Without mandatory limits, food makers will still be allowed to sell products which contain high levels of acrylamide.”
These legal limits must equally apply to imported foods, Goyens added.
The text will now be sent to the Council and the European Parliament, which have three months to study it and raise any objections, before being finally adopted by the Commission.
Over 70 stakeholders left feedback on the proposal. All expressed support for the proposal in general but noted certain reservations. Here are some excerpts:
European Confederation of National Bakery and Confectionery Organisations: “[It is] worrying that avoiding a ‘dark roasting of the crust’ is still enlisted in the mitigation measures. The colour of the crust doesn’t have any influence on acrylamide content in bakery wares. A dark dough as a result of the use of dark ingredients will lead in every case to a dark crust, but this doesn’t mean that such a bread is ‘burnt’ or ‘unhealthy’. On the contrary, wholegrain products, which are high in fibre and nutritionally highlighted as ‘healthy’, always have a darker crust.”
Copa and Cogeca (representing EU farmers and agri-cooperatives): “While all current available scientific sources establish a link between the lack of sulphur and the presence of asparagine, this is not the case for nitrogen fertilisation. We therefore ask the European Commission services to withdraw the reference to nitrogen fertilisation as this advice is not science based.”
European Snacks Association: “The proposed benchmark level for potato crisps made from sliced potatoes (750 μg/kg) is […] simply too low for it to be achievable for FBOs across the full year, especially given seasonal and regional differences across Europe.”
Swedish Food Federation (Livsmedelsföretagen): “In the case of breakfast cereals it also seems odd that the benchmark level for bran products and whole grain cereals is the same as for wheat and rye based products, whilst it is well known that bran and whole grain products have a higher risk of acrylamide formation due to higher asparagine levels.”
Federation of EU Bakery, Confectionary and Patisserie Manufacturers and Suppliers (Fedima): “The provisions are deemed extremely prescriptive [as] they do not include elements such as ‘where recipe permits’ or ‘without affecting quality or organoleptic characteristics’.”