QeA to EU Commission – Allergy to apples ?!

In EU, as well as in USA and other countries with different allergens requirements (e.g. Japan), the choice of the legislator is to specifically consider as “allergens” – for labeling purposes – only the so called “major allergens”: substances which account for the major % of food allergies found in the local population. 

It could happen that some allergies are not considered (think of garlic, strawberries…) by the legislator, so it is up to the consumer to check the ingredient list (where everything should be declared).

Those evaluations could nonetheless change in time, as explained by the EU Commission.

Question for written answer to the Commission

Tomáš Zdechovský (PPE) – 15th June 2016

Subject: Allergy to apples

Allergy to apples is affecting more and more people. It is an allergy which can manifest itself at any age.

The most common symptoms include tingling lips and itching or sore throat, as well as swelling or sneezing. A research project called SAFE was conducted across Europe to explore the occurrence of combined apple-pollen allergies. The research shows that the new varieties of apple have a greater impact on those affected.

The research also suggests that there is a geographical division between south and north, and that there are two specific types of apple allergy. In the north there are people allergic to raw apple pulp, while people from the south are allergic to the skin in all of its forms, whether raw or cooked.

The research shows that the form the allergy takes is influenced not only by the amount of the allergen in the apple, but also by the variety of apple and the storage conditions.

Has the Commission conducted any research into apple allergy and its impact on European consumers or is it planning to conduct such a research?

How is the EU protecting its consumers against this allergy?

Answer given by  Mr Moedas on behalf of the Commission – 1st September 2016

Research on allergies has been supported by the European Commission since the 5th Framework Programme, when the Safe project was funded. Currently, five projects are dealing with allergies to apples (Safe, Fast, Caramel, iFAAM, Europrevall) with total EU funding of more than EUR 28 million. Horizon 2020 also offers the possibility to receive funding to carry out research on apple allergy (see Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Participant Portal).

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires, for all food, the mandatory provision of information on the presence of allergens whenever they are used in food as an ingredient. It also requires that such information must be emphasised on food labels through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients. The EU list of allergens is provided in its Annex II and has been established on the basis of a scientific opinion adopted by the European Food Safety Authority. According to this, the substances of Annex II are considered as part of the most common food allergens and there is ample evidence to support their inclusion into the list.

The regulation foresees a systematic re-examination of the allergen list and, when necessary, it is updated on the basis of the most recent scientific knowledge. At this stage, there are no available scientific data to support the inclusion of apples into the allergen list.

Nevertheless, when apple has been used as an ingredient in food, its present products, used in the production or preparation of food and still present in the finished product, must be stated in the list of ingredients

(Source: EU Parliament)

The next food fraud? Worse than the ”Horsegate”

If the explosion of the infamous “Horsemeat Scandal” was greeted at first with disbelief and barely concealed laughter from the public and media, the following concern for a public health risk revealed itself in a short time as completely not founded. None of these two reactions seem to be triggered by what could be the next food fraud scandal on a global scale.

The affected product, in this case, are spices (especially cumin, paprika and various mix) which, at a level not yet identified of the supply chain, have been adulterated with crushed almond shells, with the clear aim  of financial gain. The real risk – and what distinguishes this case from ”Horsegate” – is that such conduct poses a serious risk to the health of allergic consumers. Almond nuts

The tree nuts category, indeed, is one of the allergens that more easily could cause violent anaphylactic shock; the risk is more than real, since the analytical detection of almond’s traces (probably remained caked on the shells) was the cause of dozens of recalls and withdrawals from the market started in UK, US, Canada and several other European countries.

Although the intent of the contamination has not yet been demonstrated, it is clear that such a wide spread of withdrawals and recalls worldwide, as well as the involvement in the issue of many different brands on the market (even global retailers such as Morrisons and Sainsbury’s) and the different types product, clearly suggest a deliberate fraud.

Spices have quite high prices, which allow good profit margins through this kind of adulteration: in addition, not always the systems of internal traceability of the small and medium-size companies are adequate to the high complexity required by management of these raw materials and their mix. Finally, as highlighted by Prof. Chris Elliot in some recent interviews, the last season saw in Gujarat (India) a cumin harvest absolutely disastrous because of the weather, and this caused a spike in prices.

Although a British company, Bart Ingredients, has challenged the analytical methods used by the British “Food Standards Agency” (FSA), advancing the hypothesis of “false positives” attributed to another ingredient (the “Mahaleb”, extracted from a variety of cherry tree), the chances that this is proved true for all cases found seems utterly unrealistic.

UK, was the European country most affected by the phenomenon. Here the cumin’s consumption as a flavor enhancer in soups and processed products, and also in combination with other spices such as paprika, chili and curry, is very high. The extent of the contamination, however, is not yet fully established. At the moment there have been no reports of deaths or hospitalizations due to the issue, but unfortunately could only be a matter of time. The spices are used in many processed and prepacked foods and it will be very difficult to detect all the products contaminated and to remove them all from the shelves (e.g. the first recalls involved kit for fajitas in British supermarket).

This will be the first “stress test” for the newborn FSA “Food Crime United” and the UK food safety system as a whole, after its reorganization following the “Elliot Review”. Important signals, however, should also be sent by the European Commission, now engaged with the revision of Reg. (EC) n. 882/2004 and with the implementation of appropriate measures to fight frauds.