Revision 5 of the legislation includes two additional articles – 5 and 6. The latter will be of particular interest to food manufacturers given that it threatens “maximum levels for acrylamide” in any sectors failing to apply the Codes of Practice (CoPs) and a formal review of progress within three years to ensure the industry-led approach is working.
The use of indicative values rather than maximum levels is just one bone of contention between industry groups and campaigners as lobbying intensifies in the run up to a vote on the laws next year.
Reacting to the first draft back in September, campaigners said the failure to include maximum permitted levels of acrylamide combined with the lack of independent enforcement renders the new laws meaningless.
They have also argued that the CoPs aren’t working and will not protect the public from a substance that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has noted “potentially increases the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups”.
Industry, meanwhile, has been defending the CoPs, which set out acrylamide mitigation measures. An analysis of over 40,000 samples of fresh, sliced potato crisps from 20 European countries found that mean levels of acrylamide fell by 53% between 2002 and 2011.
However, the application of the Codes should become a mandatory requirement, according to industry representatives. There should also be regular testing of products and ingredients, trials for new mitigation strategies and records should be kept to help regulators.
So does the latest draft, seen by FoodNavigator, suggest we getting closer to a compromise? Maybe. Maybe not.
Revision five revealed
Revision five includes a requirement for member states to monitor progress on an annual basis to ensure that acrylamide levels are below the indicative values. If this isn’t the case, businesses will need to provide evidence that they’ve been applying the CoP; show the results of any monitoring they’ve undertaken; and how they’ve taken action when levels have been exceeded. This is detailed in article 4.
Article 6, which has been added to the latest version, details what will happen if performance isn’t up to scratch. “If it is concluded from these controls that food business operators from a certain sector are not or insufficiently applying the Codes of Practice, maximum levels for acrylamide shall be set in application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 315/93 for the products from that sector.”
Campaigners still maintain that a legally binding limit is essential from the get-go, whilst industry believes maximums will be seen by businesses as an excuse not to make further progress. Health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis also has his doubts about imposing maximum levels.
The approach “does not provide guarantees that food business operators perform further efforts to reduce the presence of acrylamide to levels significantly lower than the maximum levels”, he explained in a letter last month to campaigners at Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE), Corporate Europe Observatory and WeMove.EU.
What the levels or values should be also remains a matter for debate. Denmark has set lower indicative values for its manufacturers, though a spokesman from the government said that the new articles have “strengthened” the regulation. A review of the indicative values will take place before the law comes into force, rather than a year later as originally planned.
According to article six, EFSA will also be checking up to determine whether the CoPs have led to a decrease in acrylamide levels. An analysis using data from member states undertaken three years on from the law coming into force will need to show the amount of acrylamide in food is falling. If that’s not possible, “other risk management measures shall be established to ensure that the levels of acrylamide in food are reduced to ensure a high level of human health protection”.
When asked for further information relating to the amendments in revision five, a spokesman for the Commission said he was not in a position to comment further at this stage.
“The Commission has not taken any position yet,” he explained. “The discussions with member states and stakeholders remain exploratory and are held at technical level by Commission services, which are working towards a reduction of the presence of acrylamide in food.”
UK industry group, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the changes, which it said “will result in the further progressive reduction of acrylamide in the European food supply”. A spokeswoman said the new draft “reflects existing monitoring and reporting requirements which are included within the Codes of Practice”.
Campaigners said the rules still don’t go far enough. “There are some improvements but not much,” said SAFE secretary general Floriana Cimmarusti. The good news, she added, is that the vote on the proposals has been delayed until January. “It will give the Commission more time to draft a better regulation.”