In our latest round-up of the news from Brussels, the European Union grants protective status to France's most famously potent spirit, Belgium asks the ECJ to intervene in a controversial halal slaughter ban, and there are more warnings about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.
French absinthe receives protected status from Brussels
Absinthe de Pontarlier is now registered as a geographical indication, the EU has announced.
Pontarlier was famous for producing absinthe until France banned the spirit in 1915, partly over fears it would debilitate French soldiers fighting in the First World War.
In 1921, new legislation banned aniseed beverages from containing wormwood. Since 1988, when absinthe-based spirit drinks were again authorized, the region of Pontarlier witnessed a revival in absinthe production.
The town in eastern France on the Swiss border is now officially protected with the geographical indication mark PGI. The new European protected status will help fight off foreign imitators, said François Guy, in charge of one of the two main Pontarlier producers of absinthe.
The Absinthe de Pontarlier name will join the 238 geographical indications of spirit drinks already registered on the eAmbrosia database.
No-deal chaos to hit food businesses trading across the Irish border, report warns
Crashing out of the EU without a deal would leave many food businesses operating in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with mounting costs and paperwork, with a likely detrimental impact on consumers and public health, warn food policy experts.
A report from the Food Research Collaboration argued that a no-deal Brexit would lead to disruption in food supplies across Ireland, due to the introduction of border controls on foods entering Ireland from the UK, with the Republic of Ireland legally obliged to impose controls on the Irish side of the border.
Dr Rosalind Sharpe from the Food Research Collaboration said: “Since the Good Friday Agreement, the food sectors on both sides of the border have quietly integrated. Farms and food businesses, from the giant to the micro, depend on being able to ship goods easily across the border. A no-deal Brexit pulls the rug from under them. Some could go out of businesses within days.”
The report claimed that a sandwich maker, for example, producing five different types of sandwiches containing animal products - such as butter, cheese, fish or meat - and shipping them to 20 outlets across the border on a daily basis would mean submitting 100 certificates every day.
That’s because foods containing constituents of animal origin will need to be accompanied by an Export Health Certificate, filled in by the exporter and authorised and countersigned by a vet or an Environmental Health Officer, who would in turn need to inspect the goods physically to verify compliance. Neither small food businesses affected nor the public organisations involved, be it local councils or the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland currently have the capacity and resources to cope with this, the report warned.
Food prices ‘rising rapidly’
The cost of food in Europe increased by 2% in June 2019 compared to June 2018. According to data from Trading Economics, between 1997 and 2019 annual food inflation in the EU averaged 3.01%.
The most recent Eurostat report revealed that the highest contribution to annual inflation in the euro area came from services – which added 0.73%. This was followed by food, alcohol and tobacco, which raised overall inflation levels by 0.3%.
Within the European Union, food spending totalled €1.123bn in 2016. Food and drink expenditure accounts for an average of 13.5% of household budgets throughout the EU, according to data from industry body FoodDrinkEurope. Across Member States, spending on food accounts for between 10% and 31% of household incomes.
Food price inflation in Europe is being driven by ‘many factors’ including increased taxation or tariffs on goods, political and social events, exchange rates, even climate change and the weather, a spokesperson from price comparison experts Compare My Mobile told FoodNavigator.
European Court of Justice to rule on Flanders ban of halal and kosher slaughter
Belgium’s Constitutional Court has asked the European Court of Justice to issue a judgement on a ban on halal and kosher slaughter in Flanders. Flanders introduced a ban on the Muslim and Jewish ways of ritually slaughtering animals earlier this year. Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia will also ban halal and kosher slaughter on September 1.
A number of EU countries, such as Denmark, Sweden and Denmark, have banned traditional slaughter without stunning. But critics say the bans in Belgium are motivated by growing anti-immigration sentiment. According to the news website politico, the case in Belgium is “a critical test case of where the line lies in European law between animal welfare and religious freedom.” The decision by the European Court of Justice on whether to uphold the ban could take up to two years, and any decision could set a precedent for the whole of the European Union.
EFSA plays down flaxseed cyanide danger
The European Food Standards Association has clarified its stance on ground flaxseed after UK media reports suggested too much linseed could expose children to toxic levels of cyanide.
British reports suggested that an EFSA report had warned that eating less than a teaspoon of linseed (which contains amygdalin, a naturally occurring chemical compound that can produce cyanide as it degrades) might pose a risk to small children. The EFSA report in question stated: “Taking into account all uncertainties, a risk for younger age groups cannot be excluded if ground linseed is consumed.”
But EFSA made clear its position to FoodNavigator, stressing that its stance had been overestimated.
“EFSA’s opinion does not state that consuming one third of a teaspoon of linseed leads to poisoning,” a spokesperson said. “It states that, in a worst-case scenario, one teaspoon of ground linseed could lead to reaching the acute reference dose (ARfD).” An ARfD is an estimated intake of a chemical substance in food, expressed on a bodyweight basis, that can be ingested over a short period of time, usually during one meal or one day, without posing a health risk.
“The quote used in several articles refers to an assumption made on a worst-case scenario that not only considers factors such as body weight, but also the concentration level of cyanide (CN) included in the seeds,” the spokesperson continued. “In the worst-case scenario, the highest amount of cyanide measured - a total CN level of 407 mg/kg is taken into consideration, not an average amount.”
Therefore, a child who consumes that amount in one go could but not automatically exceed the ARfD. The EFSA stressed that the ARfD is a very conservative estimation: it ensures that under that level of consumption the dose is very safe. What’s more, exceeding the ARfD doesn’t lead automatically to poisoning or even to any adverse effects.
But EFSA pointed out that no case of poisoning by linseed had been reported. That’s not the case for the consumption of apricot kernels that can put people at risk of cyanide poisoning, which can cause nausea, headaches, insomnia, nervousness and, in extreme cases, death. For children five or more kernels appear to be toxic, according to the EFSA.