The move comes after a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion which concluded that the current exposure at population level should be reduced. The Commission noted that food is the main source of exposure for the non-smoking public – adding that its accumulation in the human body may over time lead to harmful effects such as kidney failure.
“In the scientific opinion on cadmium in food, the CONTAM Panel concluded that the mean dietary exposures to cadmium in European countries are close to or slightly exceeding the TWI [tolerable weekly intake] of 2.5 µg/kg body weight,” stated the EFSA opinion. “Certain subgroups of the population may exceed the TWI by about 2 fold.”
“The CONTAM Panel further concluded that, although adverse effects on kidney function are unlikely to occur for an individual exposed at this level, exposure to cadmium at the population level should be reduced.”
The new maximum exposure levels for infant formula and baby food, and cocoa-based products including chocolate will come in to force in 2015 and 2019 respectively.
Cadmium is a heavy metal found both through natural occurrence and from industrial and agricultural sources. The maximum levels for cadmium in food have existed in EU legislation since 2001.
“According to the scientific opinion on cadmium in food of the CONTAM Panel, the food groups that contribute to the major part of the dietary cadmium exposure, primarily because of the high consumption, are cereals and cereals products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes and meat and meat products,” noted the EFSA report.
“Highest cadmium concentrations were detected in the food commodities seaweed, fish and seafood, chocolate and foods for special dietary uses as well as in fungi, oilseeds and edible offal.”
However, the EFSA opinion noted that efforts to reduce exposure levels to the metal should be made in certain food groups where exposure is highest or where the consumer groups were most vulnerable.
As a result the report outlined new recommendations for maximum exposure levels in a range of infant products and cocoa-based products. These new or reduced levels are aimed at protecting the most vulnerable groups like infants and young children, said the European Commission (EC).
Three maximum levels have been set for chocolate, where the strictest maximum levels apply to chocolate varieties most eaten by children, while a maximum level is also set for cocoa powder destined for direct consumption.
New levels have also been set for infant and follow-on formula and processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children.
The EC confirmed that a transitional period has been foreseen to allow cocoa producing countries and the chocolate industry to adapt to these new levels which will apply from 1 January 2019. Meanwhile the new maximum levels set for categories of infant formula will apply from 1 January 2015 onwards.
A further Commission Recommendation on reducing the existing maximum levels for other important contributors to dietary exposure - such as cereals, potatoes and other vegetables - was also adopted, and will allow a progressive implementation by farmers and food business operators, said the EC.
“Member States should ensure that available mitigation measures for reduction of cadmium levels in food, in particular in cereals, vegetables and potatoes, are progressively implemented by farmers and food business operators,” the recommendation stated. “This includes effective ways of communicating and promoting known mitigation methods to farmers and food business operators.”