Written QA to EU Commission – China’s dubious food imports

Question for written answer
to the Commission 
Rule 117
Andreas Mölzer (NI) (20th March 2014)

Subject:  Dubious food imports from China

Since food from China is often considerably lower priced than domestic food, imports from the Middle Kingdom have been steadily increasing in the past few years. However, this is problematic because certain pesticides are allowed in Chinese agriculture that are forbidden in the Member States. According to a newspaper report, increasing quantities of fish, apples, strawberries and jam in particular are from China.

It seems that China is way ahead in terms of statistics for food that has attracted attention on arrival in the EU. In 2013 an EU food authority is said to have reported Chinese imports to the EU-wide Rapid Alert System no fewer than 435 times. Tests show the presence of genetically-modified ingredients, pesticides and even heavy metals.

1. How high is China’s share of food products imported into the EU?

2. What consequences can be drawn for inspections of food imports from countries that are reported so many times in the EU-wide Rapid Alert System?

Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission (13th May 2014)

1. China is the fourth commercial partner of the EU as regards the total trade in agricultural and fishery products and accounted for 4.85% of the imports into the EU of these products in 2012.

2. As part of the comprehensive body of legislation in place to ensure that food imported into the Union complies with EU safety requirements, the Commission established in 2010 a list of food and feed of non-animal origin which on the basis of known or emerging risk require an increased level of controls prior to their introduction into the EU. The list appears in Annex I to Regulation (EC) 669/2009 and is regularly reviewed on the basis of information sources which include data resulting from notifications received through the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed. At present the list features, amongst others, frozen strawberries, ‘Chinese Broccoli’, pomelos and tea originating from China.

When required, more stringent import conditions such as the compulsory presentation of results of sampling and analysis and of a health certificate verified by authorised representatives of the country of origin are adopted. This regime is at present applicable to a number of commodities including groundnuts originating from China due to the possible contamination with aflatoxins and rice products originating from China due to the possible presence of unauthorised genetically modified rice. Special conditions such as the suspension of imports of the food or feed in question can also be imposed if needed.

(Source: European Parliament)

The sweeter the better? EU and US approve advantame use as food additive

The following is my first article on LinkedIn as publisher, a special account released by the platform to influencers and valuable bloggers in their respective sector. Here you can find the article on LinkedIn.

Now you can follow me also on LinkedIn to share our thoughts about food safety and regulations on a broader platform. I hope this will give our blog a greater audience!


On 19th May 2014 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the safety of use of the additive advantame in food, with the exception of meat and poultry. The FDA final rule will be effective from 21st May 2014.

Food additives in USA are subjected to premarket review and approval by FDA – like in this case – or have to demonstrate their safety through the so called “GRAS” procedure. “GRAS” is an acronym for the phrase Generally Recognized ASafe and means that if a food additive has been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, there is no need of the premarket approval by FDA.

FDA evaluated data from 37 animal and human studies and did not identify possible toxic effects, such as reproductive, neurological, and cancer-causing effects. Therefore, advantame has been approved for use as a general-purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer and can be used in baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages (including soft drinks), chewing gum, confections and frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.

In the meantime, the European Union was evaluating the approval of the substance as well.

On 31st July 2013 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a Scientific Opinion on the safety of advantame as food additive. EFSA’s findings were very similar to FDA evaluation and the Authority concluded for the safety of use of the substance.

Anyway, the evaluating Panel noted that there is an indication of advantame instability in acidic beverages and thermally treated foods, and also that there are critical effects observed in animal studies, especially about maternal toxicity (gastrointestinal disturbances) in the prenatal developmental toxicity study in rabbits.

For that reason the Panel established a precautionary ADI (adequate daily intake) of 5 mg/kg bodyweight/day, assessing that conservative estimate of advantame exposure for high level adults and children consumers were below the ADI for the proposed use levels.

On 15th May 2014 was published on the Official Journal of the European Union the new EU Regulation n. 497/2014, which authorize from 4th June 2014 the use of advantame in several categories of food, such as flavoured fermented milk products, confectionery, cocoa and chocolate products, fruit and vegetable preparations excluding compote, jam, jellies, sweetened chestnut puree, chewing gum, breakfast cereals, bakery products, flavoured drinks, fruit nectars, soups, sauces, dietary foods and food supplements. Advantame will be classified and indicated on labels as E 969.

In 2013, the sweetener was evaluated also by JECFA (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives) which issued the same conclusion again: advantame is safe for the intended use. The Committee proposed an acceptable daily intake (ADI) of 0–5 mg/kg body weight (bw) and agreed that the ADI also applies to those individuals with phenylketonuria, as the formation of phenylalanine from the normal use of advantame would not be significant in relation to this condition.

Advantame is an high-intensity sweetener, offering consumers and the food industry the option to choose from a wider selection of sweeteners, thus reducing the intake of each individual sweetener.