The European Commission has reviewed the measures it has taken to ensure aflatoxin-contaminated Chinese peanuts, Iranian pistachios and Turkish figs, pistachios and hazelnuts do not enter the European Union.
Aflatoxins are formed by certain moulds on foodstuffs, particularly peanuts, nuts and dried fruit and their products, grown in warm humid conditions. They have been shown to be carcinogenic - cancer causing - in animals and aflatoxin B1, the most toxic, is classified as both a human carcinogen and mutagenic - ie it damages DNA.
UK consumers are already protected by existing legislation that controls the maximum levels of aflatoxins permissible in peanuts, nuts and dried fruit, and the EC says the new measures are designed to expand and reinforce those already in place.
Recent data received from Member States, on the levels of aflatoxins in consignments of pistachios and pistachio products imported from Iran, have indicated that there has been no improvement in the situation since the original regulations came into force, revealed the UK's Food Standards Agency in a statement.
The agency added that the EC Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health has therefore agreed that there is a continuing need for the re-testing of all consignments for aflatoxins, as well as the other measures imposed by the initial Commission Decision.
The Commission also reported no improvement in aflatoxin levels in imported peanuts and peanut products from China and imported figs, hazelnuts and pistachios and products from Turkey. In this case the Standing Committee says it has agreed there is a continuing need for random testing of 10 per cent of consignments.
The EC Decisions that bring this into effect - 2003/551/EC, 2003/550/EC and 2003/552/EC - nevertheless specify that consignments to be subjected to sampling and analysis should only be detained for a maximum of 15 working days from the point of entry into the Community before release onto the market. Member States are also required to submit a three-monthly report to the Commission of all analytical results of these official controls.
The rulings also detail the procedure to be followed for any consignments that are subsequently split.
The FSA says the EC Decisions will be kept under review in the light of information and guarantees provided by the authorities of China, Iran and Turkey. Also, the results of the tests carried out by Member States will be considered as part of the review process to assess whether there is a continuing need for the special measures.
The Decisions have been enacted into English law by The Food (Peanuts from China) (Emergency Control) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, The Food (Pistachios from Iran) (Emergency Control) (England) Regulations 2003 and The Food (Figs, Hazelnuts and Pistachios from Turkey) (Emergency Control) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, which came into force on 31 July 2003.
Parallel orders will be made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, informs the FSA.