MEPs narrowly rejected an objection to proposals from the European Commission to allow phosphates to be used as additives in products such as donor kebabs.
The use of “frozen vertical meat spits” is not currently authorised under EU law. Nevertheless, according to the Greens in the European Parliament, the meat industry has “for a long time” been using phosphate additives in kebabs “on a large scale”.
The EC wants to legalise this practice and introduced a draft regulation that would permit phosphoric acid, phosphates and polyphosphates as food additives in these meat preparations.
The objection was raised by Green/EFA MEP Bart Staes and the Socialists & Democrat’s Christel Schaldemose. They said a ban on phosphates would “protect public health”.
In order to overrule the Commission, Staes and Schaldermose required the backing of an absolute majority of MEPs plus one, meaning at least 376 votes. During the vote on Wednesday (13 December), 373 MEPs rejected the EC proposal by backing the objection, while 272 MEPs voted in favour of allowing phosphates in meat cooked on skewers, while 30 abstained.
‘Hands off the kebab’ – EPP Group
Ahead of the vote, the rightward-leaning EPP Group vowed to support the European Commission's proposal to authorise the use of phosphates in frozen meat spits.
“The EPP Group will do everything in its power to stop the scaremongering and avoid a European kebab ban," said Renate Sommer MEP, the EPP Group's spokeswoman for the file.
Sommer said the group it was resisting the proposal because research suggests the level of phosphates contained in kebabs is “negligible" – while the average intake of phosphates from Coca-Cola is “much higher”.
"The changes in the EU legislation concerning phosphates are meant to make it more difficult for the control authorities in Member States to impose such a ban without concrete argumentation, and are hence necessary,” Sommer argued.
Is there a health risk?
The EPP Group also maintains no evidence supports the suggestion that consumption of phosphates represents a risk to health.
"There is no proof that phosphates have negative health effects,” Sommer insisted.
However, the Greens maintain there are “serious concerns” over the health implications.
“Our objection to the Commission’s proposals is nothing to do with wanting to ban kebabs. We want people to be able to enjoy all their favourite foods, but without the addition of potentially dangerous and unnecessary food additives.”
The European Food Safety Authority is currently reviewing the health risks associated with phosphate additives. Its findings will be published before the end of next year.