EFSA report on emerging risk – Plastic rice frauds listed

Last week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its annual report on emerging risks. The top 10 risks were defined as follows:

  1. Outbreak related to the consumption of raw beetroot in France;
  2. Growth of Vibrio spp in Northern waters and TTX detection in European bivalve shellfish in UK;
  3. Putative new influenza virus that has been identified in livestock species (cattle and swine) in Belgium;
  4. Risks from the consumption of bitter apricot kernels from Greece;
  5. Increase of deoxynivalenol and zearalenone levels from Italy in 2014;
  6. Dermatitis due to raw or undercooked Shiitake consumption from France;
  7. Increased incidence of Salmonella Infantis in broiler meat from Croatia;
  8. Zoonotic spread of CPE/CPA from Finland;
  9. Artificial plastic rice from UK;
  10. Yersinia pseudotuberculosis outbreak in raw milk from Finland;
  11. Hay as food or food additive from Austria;
  12. Oxalic acid in green smoothies from Germany;
  13. Natural occurrence of bisphenol F (BPF) in mustard from Switzerland.

The report is of extreme interest and each investigation worth a look, but due to my insane passion for food frauds, I will report the specific findings about the “artificial plastic rice” from China.

Artificial plastic rice – Description of the issue

In 2011 reports began circulating in media across South East (SE) Asia that artificial (plastic) rice was being produced in China, which was subsequently being sold in towns such as Taiyuan in Shaanxi province.

The issue was raised in 2013 by European Parliament seeking clarification on whether the Commission was aware of the practice, and if so, what safeguards were in place to prohibit artificial rice from entering into the EU.

A briefing note was prepared by the UK for discussion by EREN, Emerging Risks Exchange Network.

The European Commission response of 20 September 2013 to the Parliamentary question states that rice products originating in China are subject to Commission Implementing Decision 2011/884/EU, recently amended to Commission Implementing Decision 2013/287/EU, which stipulates consignments of rice originating from China can be released for free circulation only if accompanied by analytical report demonstrating it is GM free and a health certificate issued by the Chinese competent authority (AQSIC) certifying the rice has been produced, sorted, handled, processed, packaged, and transported in line with good hygiene practice.

In October 2015 EFSA received a pressa article from an ECDC colleague from their Epidemic Intelligence monitoring. The information on ‘plastic rice’ was apparently found in several media that week. This rice is likely to be commercialised throughout Asia according to some media. The rice is produced using a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes and plastic. It is formed by mixing the potatoes and sweet potatoes into the shape of rice grains, at this point industrial synthetic resins are then added.

It would appear that appropriate tools are in place which reduces the risk of affected products entering the EU, nevertheless, the UK would like to encourage a discussion on the subject, firstly to highlight the practice, but also to consider whether a risk of entry into the EU still remains via third country involvement.

Key points from the discussion, the conclusions and the recommendations

The INFOSAN Secretariat received several inquiries from INFOSAN members in Asia as concerns over fake rice were perpetuated in the media. The Secretariat reached out to INFOSAN members in China to inquire about this event and to verify or dispel the rumours. Unfortunately no further information was supplied.

One INFOSAN member from another Asian country reported a suspected case of illness following the consumption of the implicated rice, but this could not be confirmed upon further investigation and no fake rice was found.

This event highlights the added difficulties that arise during food safety events that result from fraud. In addition, gaps in the analytical methodologies to test for “fake rice” were also raised.

The US FDA and their food fraud network are aware of the issue and are monitoring the rice imported from China. Assumptions arose that this fake rice is exported mainly to the African continent.

EREN discussed the difficulty linked to this issue as no proper risk characterisation can be done unless the different risk characterisation questions such as, which different types of resins are used to produce the fake rice, are properly identified.

EREN concluded that this is considered as an emerging issue. EREN recommended EFSA to contact its different international collaborators from Asia and remain liaised with INFOSAN to be kept updated on this issue.

(Source: EFSA website)

EU Commission report on food intended for sportspeople

The report, published on 15th June 2016, is intended to meet the obligation set for the Commission by Article 13 of Regulation (EU) No 609/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council on food intended for infants and young children, food for special medical purposes, and total diet replacement for weight control (hereinafter ‘FSG Regulation’). According to this Article, the Commission is required to present to the European Parliament and to the Council, after consulting the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), a report on the necessity, if any, of provisions for food intended for sportspeople (hereinafter ‘sports food’).

The request for this report is linked to the repeal by the FSG Regulation of the framework on foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional uses, as of 20 July 2016. This framework was established by a Council Directive in 1989 and completed by the recast Directive 2009/39/EC.

Sports food can currently be classified either (1) as ‘foodstuff intended for particular nutritional uses’ under Directive 2009/39/EC or (2) as food for normal consumption governed by relevant horizontal rules of food law. The FSG Regulation does not include sports food within its scope, since it focuses on foods for certain vulnerable groups of consumers.

Thus, since a categorisation as foodstuff intended for particular nutritional uses will no longer be available to sports food, this type of food will be exclusively governed by horizontal rules of food law as from 20 July 2016.

This report reflects on potential consequences of the change of status for sports food.

It builds upon a market study carried out by the Food Chain Evaluation Consortium (FCEC Study) between January 2015 and June 2015. In the context of the preparation of this report, a consultation was carried out with national competent authorities and other interested parties.

The European Commission consulted the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which provided scientific and technical assistance regarding sports food. EFSA compiled existing scientific advice in the area of nutrition and health claims and Dietary References Values for adults that are relevant to sportspeople and informed the Commission that its subsequent advice does not differ from the recommendations of the Report of the Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) adopted in 2001 on composition and specification of food intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sportsmen.

Here below, the conclusions:

“There are clear indications that sport has become mainstream in the general population. Consequently, people carrying out sports activity can hardly be characterised as a specific vulnerable group of consumers but rather as a target group of the general population who is protected at an appropriate level by horizontal legislation.

In view of the growing completion of the horizontal rules of food law which took place in the last years, an appropriate legislative framework is in place to ensure that sports food classified nowadays as food intended for particular nutritional uses can remain on the market and can operate. The horizontal rules of food law provide the necessary safeguards for these products in terms of food safety, food composition, consumer information and legal certainty. As a result, not only all sports food products will be subject to the same legal requirements but they will have the same level of harmonisation as other foods falling under the horizontal rules of food law. It is expected that, through the simplification and clarification of the legal framework applicable for sports food, legal certainty will be enhanced and the current fragmentation based on the different legal frameworks reduced.

From this analysis, it can be concluded that there is no necessity for specific provisions for food intended for sportspeople. Nevertheless, sports food may include some element of specificity and the analysis in this report shows that this may have to be taken into account by the Commission in the application and implementation of the horizontal rules, so that such specificities can be adequately addressed. The Commission will ensure proper application of horizontal legislation and monitor the developments after 20 July 2016.”

(Source: DG Sante website)