RASFF recurrent alerts notified by Italy – Mercury in fish

During 2014 the EU Rapid Alert System (RASFF – Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) recorded a relevant number of 62 notifications – sent only from Italy – for large size fish containing heavy metals, mercury in particular.

The countries of origin of the fish are different, but with a clear predominance of Spain, closely followed by Portugal and Vietnam.

This is a useful information for food business operators which purchase fish products from these countries: in order to avoid contaminated lots and the potential sanctions from the controlling authorities, it is strongly suggested to adopt reinforced sampling and testing activities.

Swordfish, tuna and mako shark, are among the main species involved and the values ​​of mercury found by the authorities were very different from one case to another (from 0.7-0.8 mg / kg to 5.4 mg / kg and above): from this risk are exempted canned foods, usually derived from fish of medium size, less exposed to this kind of contamination. It must also be pointed out that the risk arising is not of immediate/acute type, but is more likely a cumulative toxic effect.

Following a request from the European Commission, in 2014 EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) released a Scientific Opinion to assess health benefits and risks associated with the consumption of fish and the potential presence of mercury. The Panel concluded that consumption of about 1‑2 servings of seafood per week and up to 3‑4 servings per week during pregnancy has been associated with better functional outcomes of neurodevelopment in children compared to no consumption of seafood. Such amounts have also been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease mortality in adults and are compatible with current intakes and recommendations in most of the European countries considered. These associations refer to seafood per se and include beneficial and adverse effects of nutrients and non-nutrients (i.e. including contaminants such as methylmercury) contained in seafood.

So, there is no need to panic, but certainly the high number of RASFF notifications is suggesting to be a bit careful in consuming too much of those species and to strengthen the official controls in this sector. Despite the presence of a real risk for human health, however, it is quite strange the total absence of news about this situation in the main newspapers, often very quick to raise excessive awareness in cases where there is not any risk (i.e. blue mozzarella).

The Italian Ministry of Health advised through its website a moderate consumption of predatory species of large size (1 serving per week of about 100 g, 2 servings for tuna), especially with regard to children and pregnant women, and pointed out that a reason for the peak of notifications to the RASFF is a consequence of the reinforced controls on the market.

EU Conference on food frauds

On 23-24 October 2014 I will be in Rome, at the Italian Ministry of Health (via Giorgio Ribotta, 5), to follow a fundamental two days event about the food fraud issue, organised with the joint effort of the Ministry and the EU Commission.

The prime objective of this conference is to raise the profile of Economically Motivated Violations (EMV) of food law as a major global challenge and to promote and expand interdisciplinary collaboration and communication by providing a platform to those parties involved in fighting EMV, ranging from leading food control and judicial authorities to industry and consumers stakeholders.

Here you can find more information about the event: link.

The program and the speakers’ level are absolutely impressive:

Thursday, 23rd October 2014:

13:00 – 14:00 Registration and Buffet lunch
14:00 – 14:30 Opening remarks Italian Minister/E Poudelet – Director, Safety of Food Chain, European Commission, DG Health and Consumers
Session 1 – Food Fraud Overview – EU and National Perspectives
14:30 – 14:40Chair/Moderator Introduction – Marabelli/Borrello (Italian Ministry of Health)
14:40 – 15:404 Speakers – 15 minutes for each presentation to address the following topics:

  • What is food fraud? – (An overview of the concept of fraud, laws and regulations; extension of the problem, etc. Could also include an overview of major incidents and current threats to brand and consumer protection, financial implications, etc.) – Francesco Lo Voi (Eurojust)
  • The EU perspective (An overview of European Commission’s policy initiatives) – Carmen Garau (Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Health and Consumers)
  • Glenn Taylor (Hampshire County Council, UK )
  • Stefano Vaccari (Ministry of Agriculture, IT)
15:40 – 16:10Debate with speakers – Q&A
16:10 – 16:30Coffee break
Session 2 – Industry and Consumer Perspectives
16:30 – 16:40Chair/Moderator Introduction – Eric Poudelet (Director, European Commission, DG Health and Consumers)
16:40 – 17:102 speakers, 15 minutes each to present industry and consumer experience and views:

  • Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI) cutting-edge information and experiences on food fraud – Yves Rey (Corporate Quality Manager Danone)
  • The European Consumer Organisation’s (BEUC) expectations and views
17:10 – 17:30Debate with speakers – Q&A
17:30 – 17:40Closing first day of conference

Friday, 24th October 2014:

Session 3 – Needs and Options for a Collaborative Approach / Case Studies
9:30 – 9:40Chair/Moderator Introduction – Eric Marin (Deputy Head of Unit, European Commission, DG Health and Consumers)
9:40 – 10:253 speakers, 15 minutes each to present, including 2 case studies to take a more in-depth look at the food fraud challenges and explore new ideas to expand the experts’ connections/network:

  • Collaborative approach – Professor Chris Elliott (Queen’s University, Belfast, UK)
  • 1st case – Michael Rosenmark (Danish Flying Squad)
  • 2nd case – C.P.M. de Bouter (Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority)
10:25 – 10:55Debate with speakers – Q&A
10:55 – 11:10Coffee break
11:10 – 11:20Chair/Moderator Introduction- Silvio Borrello (Italian Ministry of Health)
11:20 – 12:053 speakers (15 minute each) – Continuation of previous session

  • 3rd case – Gen. Cosimo Piccinno (NAS)
  • 4th case – Andreas Rossa (German Prosecution)
  • 5th case – Cathérine Collinet (French Brigades)
12:05 – 12:35Debate with speakers – Q&A
12:35 – 14:30Buffet lunch for participants
Session 4 – Improving Methodologies
14:30 – 14:40Chair/Moderator Introduction – Joao Onofre (European Commission, DG Agriculture)
14:40 – 15:253 speakers, 15 minutes each, on the following topics:

  • Cooperation between laboratories and validation of techniques. – Elke Anklam (Joint Research Centre)
  • Vulnerability assessment and approaches to Food Fraud prevention – John Spink (Michigan State University, USA)
  • The EU FOODINTEGRITY Project – Paul Brereton (Food and Environment Research Agency, UK)
15:25 – 15:55Debate with speakers – Q&A
15:55 – 16:05Conference Close
16:05 – 16:20Conclusions – Italian Presidency
16:20 – 16:40Closing remarks
I hope to meet some of you there!